On Friday night, Scottie Pippen, already heralded as one of the 50 greatest players in NBA history, will be granted perhaps the greatest honor of his life when he is inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in Springfield, Massachusetts.
He will be introduced by Michael Jordan, his more-heralded teammate on the six championship teams that Pippen was a part of in Chicago. Unfortunately for Pippen, MJ is likely to steal the spotlight, leaving Scottie to occupy the subheadings—fitting, considering Pippen always played second fiddle to Jordan, even when The Jumpman himself "jumped" to the Chicago White Sox for two ill-fated seasons in baseball's minor leagues.
Nevertheless, Pippen will soon be included among basketball's Pantheon, which honors multitudes of the game's Batmans and Robins across generations of ballplayers. The big question is: where does Pippen rank among the all-time best sidekicks in NBA history?
Now, there have been plenty of great duos where both players were leading men—John Stockton and Karl Malone, Oscar Robertson and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar—or both turned out to be "Alpha Dogs"—Kobe and Shaq, Tim Duncan and David Robinson. Those pairings necessitate an entirely different discussion. For now, here are five of the greatest players who made Hall of Fame careers out of assisting legends, in no particular order.
What better player to start with than, of course, Scottie Pippen?
Everyone knows Scottie as Jordan's right-hand man, the point-forward who used his size and skills to make the Phil Jackson's Triangle offense run like clockwork while MJ wowed just about everyone—supporters and "haters" alike—with his unparalleled clutch play.
During those six championship runs, Pippen average nearly 20 points, seven rebounds, six assists, and two steals per game, showcasing on a nightly basis the kind of versatility that players like LeBron James are so often heralded for.
It wasn't until Jordan's first retirement that the league realized just how great and vital to those championship teams Pippen really was. In Jordan's first year away from the team, Pippen posted career-best averages in points and rebounds while leading the NBA in steals per game and brought the Bulls to within a bad call of the Eastern Conference Finals.
Scottie's efforts earned him All-Star Game MVP honors and a third-place finish in the league MVP tally. He followed up the next year by becoming one of four players in NBA history to lead his team in points, rebounds, assists, steals, and blocks.
Though Jordan received the lions-share of the attention—and deservedly so–Pippen did more than enough to establish himself as one of the best second-options to ever grace the hardwood.
While Scottie was still making a name for himself at Arkansas State, James Worthy was busy running the fast-break with Magic Johnson and the "Showtime" Los Angeles Lakers, while building his Hall-of-Fame resume.
The man known affectionately as "Big Game James" entered the NBA as the No. 1 overall pick in the 1983 draft after leading the University of North Carolina to the national championship during his junior season, earning the Final Four Most Outstanding Player award while playing alongside fellow Tar Heel legends Sam Perkins and Michael Jordan.
Worthy followed up a highly successful college career with 12 decorated seasons in the NBA, racking up, among other accolades, seven All-Star appearances, three championship rings (including recognition as the Finals MVP in 1988), and a place on the NBA's 50th Anniversary All-Time Team.
All of this while playing a supporting role to the leads of Magic and Kareem.
Even so, the bespectacled star established himself as a high-flying athlete with a penchant for picking his opponents clean on defense and converting Magic's pinpoint passes into thunderous, crowd-pleasing dunks on the other end.
Though he wasn't elected to the Hall on his first ballot, as Pippen was, his accomplishments while playing his entire career for one of the most iconic franchises in North American sports history speak for themselves, as the Lakers retired his number 42 jersey alongside those of Jerry West, Wilt Chamberlain, Elgin Baylor, Gail Goodrich, and the two teammates he caddied for—Magic and Kareem.
What kept James Worthy and his all-time-great teammates from winning more than three rings? Why, the Boston Celtics, of course.
The 1980s saw a full-force revival of the Lakers-Celtics rivalry and, as a byproduct, the growth in profile of the NBA as a whole. While history tends to focus on the match-ups between Magic Johnson and Larry Bird, both legendary in their own right, it's easy to forget about the other tremendous players that populated the rosters of these two teams.
While Worthy played second-fiddle to Magic, it was Kevin McHale (along with Robert Parish, Cedric Maxwell, Danny Ainge, and Dennis Johnson) who backed up Bird in those classic Finals series against the hated Lakers throughout the '80s, winning three championships with the Celtics.
McHale, as a member of Boston's "Big Three" frontline with Bird and Parish, excelled in whatever role the Celtics utilized him. In his first five years with the team, he came off the bench, claiming consecutive Sixth Man awards in 1984 and 1985. In his first game as a starter, McHale set the franchise record for points in a game at that time with 56, which Bird eclipsed less than a week later.
And when, in 1988, his teammates jokingly nicknamed McHale "The Black Hole" for never passing the ball back out of the post, he went out and set a career-high in assists with 10 against the Dallas Mavericks.
In his prime, McHale became known for what he called "the torture chamber"—an array of post moves that allowed him to dominate and confuse defenders. As a result, McHale had the finest year of his career during the 1986-1987 season, in which he became the first player ever to shoot better than 60 percent from the field and 80 percent from the free throw line in the same year and finished fourth in the MVP voting in the process.
Few sidekicks ever rose to the occasion quite like McHale did, a remarkable trait that helped him to earn seven All-Star selections, election to the Hall-of-Fame, and a spot among the 50 greatest players in NBA history.
Long before Kevin McHale ever set foot on the hardwood floor of the Boston Garden, it was Bob Cousy who set the stage for "buddy basketball" in Boston. Though he laid claim to one of the most decorated careers in NBA history, "The Cooz" took a backseat to Bill Russell when the big man from USF arrived in Boston in 1956.
Thanks to Cousy, the Celtics improved from a dismal team with a 22-46 record the season before he arrived to a playoff team in each of his first six seasons, though Boston struggled to advance past the New York Knicks and the Syracuse Nationals.
During those early years, Cousy established himself as one of the young league's elite point guards, earning the nickname "The Houdini of the Hardwood" for use agility and use of ball-handling and passing tricks that, at the time, were relegated to "street ball".
That's not to say there wasn't plenty of substance to back up Cousy's style. He led the league in assists three times in that span and recorded one of the all-time great playoff performances in 1953 when, in a quadruple-overtime against the Nationals, Boston's "Mr. Basketball" played 66 minutes and scored 50 points, including his still-standing record of 30 made free-throws in 32 attempts.
However, Cousy didn't win any of his six titles until Red Auerbach and the Celtics drafted Bill Russell, a move that paid immediate dividends, as Boston won the NBA title during Russell's rookie year, though Cousy earned his only MVP trophy that season.
After a one-year hiatus from the victory podium, the Celtics earned the league title in each of the last five years that Cousy played in Boston (Russell and the Celtics extended their consecutive championship to streak after Cousy's first retirement).
One could argue that, because he had firmly established himself as an All-Star in the NBA before Russell's arrival, Cousy should not be considered a "sidekick" but rather Russell's equal cohort. While there is some validity to that claim, Cousy played with several other Hall-of-Fame players with the Celtics, namely Bill Sharman, and was not able to capture his first ring until Russell arrived.
Nevertheless, Cousy's accomplishments—an MVP trophy, 13 All-Star selections, 10 first-team All-NBA selections, and a place on the NBA's 25th, 35th, and 50th anniversary teams (one of only four players to claim such an honor)–speak for themselves, whether he was a second fiddle or carried the tune on his own.
While Joe Dumars may not have been the legendary point guard that Cousy was, he proved to be an excellent point guard and a tremendous "No. 2" for the Detroit Pistons behind Isiah Thomas.
A decade and a half before he constructed an Eastern Conference dynasty in Detroit, Joe D. served as Zeke's right-hand man on back-to-back championship squads with the Pistons in 1989 and 1990, the first of which netted Dumars a Finals MVP award.
Like the rest of the "Bad Boys", Dumars was well-known for his defensive prowess, garnering praise from Michael Jordan, who claimed Joe D. to be the best defender he ever faced. Of course, Dumars' four selections to the NBA's All-Defensive first-team suggested the same thing.
While Thomas proved to be the flashier and more flamboyant of the Pistons' back-court duo, Dumars established a reputation as a low-key yet upstanding member of the community, becoming the first-ever recipient of the NBA Sportsmanship Award—which is now named after him.
With six All-Star selections, two rings, a place in the Hall of Fame, and his number in the rafters at the Palace of Auburn Hills, Joe D's resume places him among the best "second fiddles" to play in the NBA.