Man, that Scottie Pippen, what a basketball player! The lockdown defense! The silky smoothness! The balletic dunks that counterbalanced Michael Jordan’s fierce slams!
Whenever someone starts a column listing all the things they like about a person, you can be pretty sure there will be a “but” soon after. And you can be pretty sure it won’t end well for that person.
But . . .
But I wish the part of Pippen’s brain that produces opinions would shut down. When it comes to hot takes, the man is a wildfire. He makes big, bold, noisy statements, then stands back to watch the flames. He’s the guy at the restaurant whose voice reaches every diner. You asked for a table with a view, not a viewpoint.
I know Pippen won’t stop talking, because he can’t help himself. I have a simple solution, however: My first vacation since the pandemic started will be a long vacation from Scottie Pippen.
His latest unloading, the one that led to my Scottie sabbatical, came in an interview with GQ. In it, he more than implied that Bulls coach Phil Jackson was racially biased when he called a play for Toni Kukoc late in a 1994 playoff game against the Knicks. Jackson and Kukoc are both white. Pippen, who is Black, infamously sat out the final 1.8 seconds of that game in protest of the play selection. Kukoc went on to hit the game-winning shot.
“I felt like it was an opportunity to give [Kukoc] a rise,” Pippen told the magazine. “It was a racial move to give him a rise. After all I’ve been through with this organization, now you’re gonna tell me to take the ball out and throw it to Toni Kukoc? You’re insulting me. That’s how I felt.”
I ask you, dear reader: Why would Jackson pick the closing moments of Game 3 of a second-round playoff series to promote any bigoted views he might hold? A series, by the way, that the Bulls trailed 2-0? Wouldn’t he have shown this tendency throughout his time as the Bulls’ head coach? If there were evidence of it, why haven’t we heard about it until now?
The logical answer to all of this is that Pippen has been lugging around the hurt of those 1.8 seconds for a long time, and after years of festering, it has taken on this jagged shape. The problem is that it doesn’t fit with anything we know or have heard about Jackson.
Pippen spent most of his career as Jordan’s very talented sidekick, and that designation has been incredibly good to him. It brought him six NBA titles and a spot on the NBA’s top-50 list in 1996. But he also seems to look upon his status as No. 2 to Jordan’s No. 1 as an affliction that has robbed him of his due.
The part of the GQ interview that has gotten the most national attention is Pippen’s takedown of Kevin Durant’s recent postseason performance.
“KD, as great as his offense was, it turned out to be his worst enemy because he didn’t know how to play team basketball,” Pippen said. “He kept trying to go punch-for-punch.”
That led Durant to tweet about Pippen’s refusal to go on the floor for the final 1.8 seconds of the 1994 game.
Didn’t the great Scottie pippen refuse to go in the game for the last second shot because he was in his feelings his coach drew up the play for a better shooter??— Kevin Durant (@KDTrey5) June 24, 2021
And, sigh, here we are. Another Scottie-started fire that had talk shows across the country buzzing.
Pippen just released his own bourbon and has a memoir coming out, but anyone who has paid attention to him knows he doesn’t need a book or booze launch to say crazy things. I can’t keep track of where he stands on whether Jordan is the best player of all time. Four years ago, he said LeBron James had “probably” passed Jordan as the GOAT. Two years ago, he said James wasn’t as good as Jordan or Kobe Bryant. If you asked him today, he’d probably say, “Michael Jordan? I don’t know a Michael Jordan.”
Pippen opens his mouth and a whole crew of people is there for the parsing. It reminds me of the salt trucks and snow-plows that wait by the side of the highway in anticipation of a storm. It’s great for talk shows and newspaper columnists, unless you’re tired of the crazy uncle routine.
I’m well aware there are people out there who wish I would give my opinions a rest. You’re free to take a vacation from me. I’m also aware that squeaky wheels like Pippen keep columnists like me very busy. But sometimes beggars can indeed be choosers.
No Scottie for me for a while, and I’m at peace.