How many rings did Scottie Pippen win without Michael Jordan? Go ahead, I'll let you think about it for a second.
But I shouldn't have to, not if you were born after 1989, not if you know anything about basketball. The answer is zero. But could Scottie deal with never winning a ring without Jordan when he not only won six with him but also was as big a part of those six rings as Jordan was. I'm sure he could.
But Pippen wasn't wired like an alpha-dog, he was wired like a complimentary player, a complimentary player who could be an alpha-dog and carry the team from time to time, but needed a true alpha-dog when it mattered the most.
In the one year the Bulls made it to the playoffs without Michael Jordan (1993-94) they won 55 games and the Eastern Conference third seed and was just a phantom foul in game five away from at least advancing to the Eastern Conference Finals. But from what I remember about that semi-finals against the Knicks was that in the end, Scottie either didn't get the chance to hit that final shot (Game Three when it went to Kukoc) or didn't hit it.
Sound like a current NBA player?
Pippen however isn't remembered as a choke artist. He was a great passer, so great that the term "point-forward" was invented to describe him, a team leader that counter-balanced Jordan's more brash attitude with a more even keeled demeanor, and could score when needed. Most importantly, he was THE shut down defender of the 1990's, if he was covering your best player, forget it.
Sound a bit like a current NBA player?
Sounds like LeBron James to me.
We wouldn't know though. He's expected to be an alpha-dog pantheon player, expected to always take (and make) the big shot at the end, expected to carry his team to victory. He's considered the best player in the game, despite the fact that he doesn't have a ring, and probably won't have a ring after this year.
Pippen showed in his career that he needed Jordan and vice-versa. You could even venture the guess that their statures in NBA history wouldn't be as big as they were with each other. LeBron isn't a Jordan type who needs his Scottie Pippen, he's a Scottie Pippen-type that needs his Michael Jordan.
His MJ? He's in Miami. He already has a ring, doesn't shy away from big moments. Can you name a single Dwyane Wade playoff bomb as bad as LeBron's performance in Game Five? I can't. Much like I can remember that a Pippen lead Blazers team that choked away a 15 point lead to the Lakers in Game Seven of the 2000 Western Conference Finals, yet even when the Bulls were swept by the Celtics in 1986, Jordan at least showed he was there and scored almost at will.
Wade has shown he has the capabilities of an Alpha-Dog. His first playoff game, Game One, Round one vs. New Orleans, 2004. Wade hits an 18 footer to win a game. Did I mention that he was a rookie that year? Not to attack LeBron but, where was he when that happened? At home, Cleveland didn't make the post-season that year. Nor did they make it the year after, a year when the Heat were the number one seed in the East and were four minutes away from the finals (and Wade scored 20 with ribs so sore he had trouble breathing in that game seven against Detroit.) Fact, Wade has more playoff appearances than LeBron, to go with having more rings.
I'm not trying to say that Wade is better than LeBron or vice-versa. But I am making this argument: Wade is more Jordan-like than LeBron (I'll throw a bone out there for all of you on team Kobe, Kobe is more Jordan-like than LeBron as well. I'll take LeBron in the first three quarters, Kobe in the fourth.)
Will LeBron accept a Scottie Pippen role? That remains to be seen. Remember, Pippen is a first ballot hall of famer, named one of the 50 best players in NBA history, and has six championship rings, which is six more than Karl Malone, Charles Barkley, John Stockton, and five more than Gary Payton and Clyde Drexler. LeBron should embrace this rather than run from it, and stop being a Pippen disguised as a Jordan, he should find his Jordan next season rather than stay in Cleveland with an aging team that he'll be expected to continue carrying. But where is the Jordan to LeBron's Pippen?
He's in Miami, right where his heart is, and right where LeBron should go next year.
Thomas is lighting candles hoping LeBron becomes the Pippen to Wade's Jordan in Miami. You can follow him on twitter @305sportsdude. You could find him on facebook or e-mail him using his e-mail address email@example.com. Leave a comment and tell him what you think.