Scottie Pippen’s autobiography, Unguarded, is out, so I decided to dedicate this week’s column to one of the NBA’s 75 greatest players of all time. He had some things to say about former teammate Michael Jordan and while I haven’t read the book (and have no intention of doing so), Pip’s been promoting it for months now and excerpts have been making the rounds this week, which should give us a good glimpse at Scottie’s state of mind.
1. “Michael and I aren’t close and never have been.”
Pippen already said this before at the Dan Patrick Show, acknowledging that while he and Jordan were “excellent teammates,” they never really had any kind relationship off the court. It’s no surprise, I guess, since we’ve seen how the NBA works (Exhibit A: the Shaq-Kobe Lakers). Growing up, people often play pick-up ball with friends, so there’s this notion of camaraderie among teammates. But it’s different in the pros, which is more akin to a workplace than a playground. It’s sort of like The Office, where apart from Jim and Pam, the Scranton crew didn’t really have any sort of off-the-workplace relationships.
But it’s also sad, because you would’ve thought that when two guys win 6 championships together, they’d at least be godfathers to each other’s kids. Pippen picked Jordan to present him to the Hall of Fame in 2010, so they appeared to be in better terms then.
2. “They glorified Michael Jordan while not giving nearly enough praise to me and my proud teammates.”
If the falling out between MJ and Pippen was only recent, then The Last Dance documentary appears to be the major tipping point. As the documentary was being aired last year, there were already reports that Pippen was livid about how he was portrayed, which Pip later confirmed as he told Jordan that “he wasn’t too pleased” with The Last Dance.
I found it bizarre then, and I still do now. He had an entire episode (Episode 2) dedicated to him, one where Jordan paid him the greatest compliment:
He was also portrayed as a hero in the series finale after gutting it out in Game 6 of the 1998 Finals. He finished with 8 points, 3 rebounds, and 4 assists in 26 minutes. Toni Kukoc played a more important role for the Bulls in that game (or that series, for that matter), but Pip was the one who got more screentime.
So his beef appears to be about two things: (1) Jordan calling him “selfish” for his decision to delay surgery and ask for a trade prior to the start of the 1997-98 season and (2) the 1994 sit-out game versus the Knicks being part of the docu-series.
It’s fairly common for interviewees to share what they thought about certain events on documentaries. I think it was clear enough to everyone who watched that when Jordan called Pippen “selfish,” he was stating his opinion and did not necessarily reflect the documentary’s conclusion. Of course, what Jordan thought matters a great deal, but it shouldn’t be confused for gospel truth. Pip shared his side of the story as well—it was all in the documentary—so it’s up to the viewers to decide which is which. I have some friends who sided with Pippen and others who agreed with MJ (I’m ambivalent about the whole deal), and we all watched the same docu-series!
On the sit-out game, since the documentary was structured in such a way that intertwined flashbacks and the 1998 “present,” the biggest playoff story for the 1994 Bulls would necessarily have to be covered. It would’ve been criminal to gloss over it. It was fairly presented, with members of the team recounting the events, including Scottie himself. This was artistic license and it’s difficult to argue with the presentation because if they’d done only the 1998 season, the documentary would not have taken more than 2.5 hours.
If there were guys who legitimately didn’t get enough credit, it was Kukoc and Luc Longley. Longley just because of his blatant omission—how can you have a proper documentary without the starting center of a three-peat team? And Kukoc because he was so crucial in that 1998 title run, with Pippen delaying surgery at the start of the season then the bad back in the playoffs and Dennis Rodman’s erratic behavior and performances throughout that season.
To Pippen’s point about the documentary glorifying Jordan: he’s 100% right. The Last Dance was very entertaining but it’s not a PBS documentary. Jordan’s production company, Jump 23, was a partner in the production and Jordan had editorial control of the final product. This is fair criticism by Pippen, one that is shared by acclaimed documentary director Ken Burns. The “documentary” was as much myth-building as it was sports drama. It’s not investigative journalism, but it would be good to remember that it does not pretend to be. It was not a definitive take on events but like Senna, my personal pick for the greatest sports documentary of all time, it makes for a more engaging story.
3. “You want to know what selfish is? Selfish is retiring right before the start of training camp when it is too late for the organization to sign free agents.”
So it is about Jordan’s “selfish” quote! Fair play, Pip.
But Jordan has some sort of bulletproof armor on this one because he tragically lost his father that same summer. Would he have retired if his father wasn’t killed? We’ll never know but he could always point to that as justification for his decision to leave in 1993.
Speaking of Jordan’s dad, Pippen apparently never offered any condolences to Jordan after his father’s death. And he gets all sensitive about The Last Dance? I’ll never understand what goes through the minds of NBA players.
4. “Michael was determined to prove to the current generation of fans that he was larger-than-life during his day—and still larger than LeBron James, the player many consider his equal, if not superior.”
The decision to make The Last Dance was apparently made in 2016 after the Cavs won their first NBA title and LeBron proclaimed himself as the GOAT on his own show. I don’t think it’s a coincidence and Pippen is right on the money on this one. Let’s not forget that Jordan is an ultracompetitive guy (as the documentary showed) and watching LeBron must have gotten Jordan’s competitive juices flowing.
Well, you can’t say Jordan didn’t succeed. More people tuned into first episode of The Last Dance than Game 3 of the 2020
Orlando Summer League NBA Finals.Think about that for a moment. A documentary about a team from over 20 years ago outperforms a current Finals game featuring LeBron. That’s almost as unreal as going 6-0 in the Finals and being the best player in every single one.
5. “I was so hurt when he picked Toni over me that I needed to come up with an explanation for why I was rejected. So I told myself at the time that Phil’s decision must have been racially motivated. Only when I saw my words in print did it dawn on me how wrong I was — after thirty years!” (on the infamous sit-out game)
Thank God Pip finally backed off that absurd “Phil is a racist” claim!
6. Final thoughts on Pip: overrated or underrated?
Depending on who you ask, Pip is either the most underrated superstar ever or the most overrated.
Why he’s underrated:
● No 6 rings and no credible GOAT claim for Jordan, who probably ends up closer to Julius Erving than to LeBron James.
● Had an MVP-level year in 1994 when Jordan was playing baseball and almost led the Bulls to the ECF.
● He was the best small forward of the 90s, a two-way wing who was the Bulls’ primary ballhandler and defensive stopper.
● Despite never winning the DPOY, he is widely regarded as the GOAT perimeter defender. Yes, even better than Jordan himself. The only player with at least 2,300 steals and 900 blocks in his career. Pip limited Magic Johnson to 18.5 points on 39.6% shooting in the last 4 games of the 1991 NBA Finals (Magic had been averaging 22.7 points on 45.1% shooting during that postseason).
Why he’s overrated:
● The 1994 season was overblown. Pippen wasn’t as good in 1995 and neither were the Bulls (even before Jordan returned for the last 17 games of the regular season).
● During the second three-peat, Pippen never scored more than 30 points in a playoff game. He had 5 during his entire tenure with the Bulls; for comparison, Khris Middleton had 5 in the 2021 postseason alone.
● He couldn’t step up when Jordan was struggling with his shot in the 1996 Finals (averaged 15.7 ppg) or even for that one game when Jordan had the flu in 1997 (17 points).
● The failed Rockets big three with Hakeem Olajuwon and Charles Barkley.
● The Blazers’ inexplicable collapse in the 4th quarter of Game 7 of the 2000 WCF.
All valid points, so let’s cut it in the middle and say he’s properly rated.
7. Throwback video of the week
Perhaps one of the reasons why Pippen doesn’t quite get the recognition he craves is because in 1994, he allowed a minor league baseball player to drop 52 points on him in the eponymous Pippen All-Star Classic.