Originally published May 31, 1994.
In his first public comments since leaving the locker room after the Bulls’ season ended in New York on May 22, Scottie Pippen said it was frustration at being asked to inbound the ball, not jealousy of Toni Kukoc, that caused him to sit out those infamous 1.8 seconds in Game 3 of the Bulls’ Eastern Conference semifinal against the Knicks.
He also stated that he is not a quitter during an interview taped Sunday that aired Monday on NBC-TV.
“In that situation there was a lot of pressure,” Pippen said. “We were down 2-0 in the series; I wanted to be a threat. Whether I was taking the shot or not, I didn’t feel like I should be the one obligated to take the ball out.
“I don’t think it was a fact that I didn’t want to play; I think it was the fact that I didn’t want to be the one to take the ball out. The pressure throughout the whole season has been whether or not I was going to perform or whether or not I was going to show up. I didn’t want to go through that series and lose 4-0. I wanted to be a threat out on the court. I felt like I was playing pretty well throughout the game. I felt like I shouldn’t be the one taking the ball out. I don’t think I wanted the ball; I wanted to be a threat.”
After Pippen went to the bench, the Bulls called another timeout, coach Phil Jackson sent Pete Myers in for Pippen and Myers inbounded to Kukoc, who hit the winning basket. Pippen denied any jealousy toward Kukoc.
“Toni has made a lot of big shots for this team over the season,” Pippen said. “It wasn’t about anyone being the hero or being crowned for anything because we all will be rewarded the same. It didn’t matter who was the hero, really. We all were the hero. He made the winning basket, but it was a team effort to win the game.
“I’m as close to Toni as I am with any player on the team. I don’t have great relationships with too many players off the court because we spend so much time together when we’re on the court. It’s very tough to establish a relationship away from the game.”
Pippen admitted that it was difficult to assume Michael Jordan’s role as team leader and unofficial spokesman.
“I mishandled a few things,” Pippen said of a year in which he made ill-advised comments.
Pippen’s advice to young players who watched him sit out the final 1.8 seconds: “Don’t make that same mistake. It wasn’t that I refused to go back in the game; I think Phil realized my frustration, and he just left me sitting there, and that was pretty much it. If the game went to overtime, I would go out and play and give it my best. My advice would be to any kid to do what your coach tells you.”
For a player with his resume, it’s unusual to be accused of being a quitter. But that’s the charge he’ll have to face after the incident.
“I don’t think you can consider me a quitter,” Pippen said. “I think you can look at it and say I made a stupid mistake. That’s pretty much it. I haven’t been a quitter. I think I go out and approach the game as hard as anyone. I play smart, I play hard and I play as a team player.”