When people discuss Pippen’s career and the legacy he left during his 17 NBA seasons, it’s impossible not to mention his running mate Michael Jordan. Sure, Pippen played Robin to Jordan’s Batman. Who wouldn’t? My beef with people that feel Pippen’s hall of fame career was only due to the fact that he ran with Michael is ridiculous. The fact of the matter is that Pippen would have been a hall of famer for any team, any system, any coach, in any era. He is one of the league’s greatest treasures. He invented the point-forward position and could defend point guards, shooting guards and small forwards. He was silky smooth. To me, he’s been completely misjudged and totally underrated.
Here’s my point- Sure, Jordan would still be the best player possibly of all time with or without Pippen. He’d still have championships. But would he have six? Honestly, I don’t think so. I do not think Jordan would be wearing six rings without Scottie. My feeling is that Michael needed Scottie possibly more so than Scottie needed Michael. Here’s another stat to back this up- When Jordan bolted the NBA in 1993 to pursue a baseball career, Pippen became the Bulls’ unquestioned best player and should have won the league MVP award during that ’93-94 season. Without Jordan, The Pippen-led Bulls won 55 games, took the Knicks to seven games in the Eastern conference semi-finals and Pippen was either first or second in every major team statistic (points, rebounds, assists, steals, blocks) and also was named MVP of the all star game. He proved he could lead a team and still be one of the leagues best players. He would have been Batman on just about any other team.
I’m not claiming to be a basketball expert. I’m not an expert, but I do call games on the radio for a division 1 team and watch hoops on TV with reckless abandon and read every book on the sport I can get my hands on. From my research, anyone that knows anything about basketball will tell you Pippen’a greatest impact on the game was from the defensive end of the floor. You might not know this, but Pippen was quite possibly the greatest perimeter defender in basketball history. His 10 NBA All-defensive honors and 8 NBA All-Defensive First Team awards are each one shy of the all time record. He holds the NBA record for all time assists and steals from the forward position. Basically, when Jordan was dropping 50 points, Scottie was holding the opponents best player under 20.
Again, don’t think I’m saying that Pippen was better than Jordan. I’m just saying it’s closer than you might think. Jordan was the face of sports across the world, but as all the greats know, you can’t do it alone. You can’t win six championships by yourself, even if you’re Michael Jordan.
Another fact of the matter is Michael and the Bulls never started winning championships until Scottie Pippen figured it out and came into his own as a top 25 player.
I think Pippen’s legacy took a turn for the worse after one failed fourth quarter in the 2000 western conference finals. Pippen was the leader of a talented Portland Trailblazers team against the young combination of Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant. His Blazers had a 17 point lead during the fourth quarter of game seven only to completely fall apart and let the Lakers come back and win the series and begin a dynasty of their own. My feeling is that if Portland never lost that lead and won the series, they would have easily defeated the Indiana Pacers in the finals that season and Pippen would have earned his seventh ring, which would have given him one more than Jordan as well as proving to basketball fans everywhere that he was an all time great and could get it done without the icon Jordan was.
Hey, Jordan never won anything before or after Scottie. In fact, Pippen came closer to winning a title without Jordan than Jordan did without Pippen.
I hope Pippen will be remembered for what he was- One of the games all time most versatile players, an amazing defender and bonafide star. An all time great.
I have a feeling people won’t look at his career the way I do. Most will remember him as just a side-kick, Michael’s buddy.
I truly hope fans won’t feel that Jordan could have won six titles with just anybody. He needed Scottie. I hope he gets his due.