MEMORIES OF SCOTTIE PIPPEN
I enjoyed watching Scottie Pippen play basketball as much as I enjoyed watching Michael Jordan play basketball. I watched them both for 11 years, from 1988-1999, as I covered the Chicago Bulls for the Daily Herald newspaper in Arlington Heights. I saw Jordan mature into the greatest basketball player of all time and I watched Pippen grow into a future Hall of Famer.
While Jordan was a marvel of physical ability and competitive drive, Pippen was the athlete I would want my kids to be, someone who transformed himself into a great player. Greatness was not thrust upon Pippen, it was something that he earned through hard work and determination.
I bristle at the continued use of Batman and Robin to describe the relationship between Jordan and Pippen. Giving it exactly 10 seconds of thought, I prefer Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, with Jordan as Robert Redford's Kid and Pippen as Paul Newman's Cassidy.
Pippen was the best defensive player I ever saw. With his incredible wingspan and quick reflexes, Pippen was able to stymie the best players in the game. In fact, by the time his career was over, I believe Pippen was more highly regarded as a defensive player than Jordan was.
Offensively, Pippen was adept at taking advantage of situations, but he never overstepped the bounds of basketball decorum by trying to score when he did not have the advantage. He employed his teammates and gave them scoring opportunities never offered to them by Jordan, who would just as soon score himself.
While Jordan brought many basketball highlights to the game, and did things that younger players tried to emulate frequently, Pippen brought back the bank shot to professional basketball. Remember how great he was at that? The 15-foot bank from the right side was his specialty, and brought to mind the thousands of bank shots I attempted under my father's watchful eye as I was growing up. I never tried to stuff a basketball.
No one tougher than Scottie Pippen
There are players who have won more in basketball’s Hall of Fame, though not many more than Scottie Pippen with his six championships playing for the Bulls. There certainly are players who have scored more, shot better, jumped higher, run faster and been more popular.
But there may be no one tougher than Scottie Pippen, who will be inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame Friday in Springfield, Mass.
Not physically tougher, for fellow inductee Karl Malone certainly was sturdier. And perhaps not mentally tougher in the way we generally define it in sports, as most everyone would point to Pippen’s former teammate and Hall of Famer Michael Jordan as the portrait of sporting tenacity.
Ironically, it was Pippen who was long cursed with the ugly label of being soft for his famous migraine headache in the 1990 conference finals, being openly taunted by Xavier McDaniel in the 1992 playoffs and the verbal and physical abuse he endured in the Bulls/Pistons wars of the late 1980s.
But that, really, was part of his great strength, sort of Scottie Pippen as Buddha.
Likely no one in the history of the NBA has endured as much, from hardscrabble upbringing, which is not uncommon among pro athletes, to raging controversies that rank among the highlights in the history of the game. Just mention the number 1.8 and everyone knows the reference. Mention migraine. Mention the gun arrest before they were fashionable and the wonderful tradition of feuds with management, though Pippen took it to the greatest lengths by once announcing his retirement during a championship season while he was on the injured list.
It all made him one of the most polarizing athletes Chicago ever has known, if also once of its most successful and acclaimed.
"Sometimes I wonder why people get so upset," Pippen once told me. "It's just basketball. People come to watch us play. But it's like our job has to always be performed right, perfect, always analyzed, that there can't be a letdown. You want to ask them sometimes, 'Did you ever have a bad day?'”
It’s going to be a great day Friday for Pippen, and let’s get this straight: He’s a bona fide Hall of Famer and not because of Michael Jordan.
Pippen may have been the greatest individual defender in the history of the NBA.
I Loved Watching Scottie Pippen Play Basketball
Scottie Pippen will be inducted into the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame on Friday, and quite simply, I loved watching that man play basketball.
To me, Scottie Pippen was the ultimate embodiment of team basketball, on both ends of the floor, and played with a physical grace that made him at least as aesthetically pleasing to watch as any player of his era, including his most famous teammate.
I consider Pippen to be greatest individual perimeter defender of all time, outstanding on the ball and even better as a help defender. And I can't lie, how you feel about Scottie Pippen is a referendum on how I feel about you as a basketball fan. If you don't think Pip was one of the 25 or so best players of all time, I don't think I want you in my life as a basketball fan.
That I even have to write those last couple sentences is a reflection that Pippen's legacy can be strangely polarizing to many fans, and that the particular moments and perceptions which stick in fans' heads can be unpredictable, and powerful forces in shaping their memories of players as a whole.
A complication for Pippen in memory is that the signature moments of his career which have stuck with many people are negative - the infamous 1.8-second sitdown in the 1994 Playoffs, and the migraine headache which rendered him utterly ineffective for Game 7 of the 1990 Eastern Conference Finals - and skew the perception of his career as a whole, in my opinion.
[VIDEO] - SCOTTIE PIPPEN - ULTIMATE DEFENDER
I literally got tears in my eyes watching that video. Pippen was almost unfair - he guards Barkley, Ewing, Magic ... incredible.
Scottie Pippen is a Hall of Famer
Here's my five, and we're going to beat you.
I'm running Scottie Pippen and Michael Jordan in the backcourt, Bill Walton in the pivot, and Bill Russell with Larry Bird at the forwards. There are better players at possibly four of the positions I've stocked around Jordan, but I don't care. This is my five, and we will beat yours.
And Scottie Pippen starts. Hell, Scottie Pippen brings the ball across half court. And Scottie Pippen is going to be the guy that holds it all together, on his way toward beating whatever hypothetical starting five you want to throw at this lot.
If this column gets too personal, well, this is something you're just going to have to tolerate. Because I've spent a lifetime watching this man play basketball, and I can't imagine another person I'd rather play ball alongside. Ask his teammates, far and wide. They hated life without him.
The awards, the rings, the statistics? They don't matter, with a guy like Scottie Pippen. The 1.8-second sit-out? That's part of the package when you do everything right for little payoff for so long. Kind of like those Amish kids who are allowed a fortnight to go inhale narcotics and chase down women with unnecessary vowels in their first names before submitting to a lifetime of quiet obedience to their respective makers.
Pippen's personal maker was this game, the game that I've chosen to cover and obsess over, and the one that brought him out of crippling poverty in rural Arkansas. His personal upbringing and formative years allowed him to see the game from all angles -- scrub to superstar, unheralded game-changer to too-precious franchise saver -- and nobody, I'm convinced, sees this game better than Scottie Pippen.