Why Scottie Pippen Chose Michael Jordan for His Hall of Fame Induction

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Why Scottie Pippen Chose Michael Jordan for His Hall of Fame Induction

Too much has been made of the Jordan-Pippen equation, but sadly, too little of credible substance befitting their legacy together.

As soon as the news came of Scottie Pippen’s induction to the 2010 Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame, the praises were out. Unfortunately, so were the fangs too - ‘couldn’t do nothing without Jordan,’ ‘the man who sold out the team in a crucial stage,’ ‘envious and jealous,’ 'insecure superstar,' and et cetera.

Pippen certainly didn’t make it any harder for his critics when he chose the ‘usual suspect’, Michael Jordan, to present him. One could even dare say that Pippen’s HoF speech was by far one of the worst, bland speeches of all time. Hell, Magic Johnson, and Larry Bird evoked more emotion and excitement in their brief words than Pippen managed to in his over 6-minute monologue! But does it matter?

Then, why in blazes am I writing this article?

Poetic justice. Life’s great small beauties. The humanity of warriors. This is why. These are terms that come to mind when I think about Pippen’s HoF ride. The honor that he richly deserved, the praise and credibility that his accomplishments have engendered, and lastly, the relationship he had with Jordan, with their ex-coach Phil Jackson, it was all HoF worthy.

Too much has been made of the Jordan-Pippen equation, but sadly, too little of credible substance befitting their relationship. Too many people have lingered on the fact that each was integral to the other’s success, that each was incomplete without the other. It is a valid argument – they were both complementary of one another and were important for each other’s growth. Jordan even went to the extent of declaring to the Bulls’ management that if coach Jackson and Pippen were out of the Bulls, so would he. For a player of Jordan’s stature to openly proclaim such worth and importance, that is no easy matter.

Everyone who knew the Bulls knew that Pippen’s early years with Jordan weren’t the easiest. They were dead tough because Jordan had taken Pippen under his wing, because Jordan saw the potential that Pippen had, and he knew that Pippen could be the missing key in his championship dreams. And remember this – Jordan had been winless in three playoff seasons till the Bulls finally cleared the bump in the 1988 playoffs. Which means that Jordan was angry and seething at everybody else because while he had extraordinary talent (and the numbers too), he had no one of considerable substance to rely upon.

Jordan roughed up Pippen during practice – he trashed him, destroyed him, and made him stronger in the process. How? Because Pippen learnt it the hard way, and he taught himself to be strong enough to endure all that Jordan gave him (Kwame Brown, you can certainly learn from this!). Does anyone think that it’s easy learning from Jordan, considering the standards he set and surpassed each season, both individually and team-wise? Craig Hodges, Chicago’s fearsome 3-point specialist, often recollects a practice session from the 1990 playoffs when Jordan and Pippen had a heated one-on-one session. Hodges remembers thinking, “Pip is one of the 10 best players in the NBA, but MJ’s still playing with him.” He also noted that Pippen wouldn’t give up. That is what Jordan did to Pippen – he made him a fighter, a warrior, a player who just wouldn’t give up. Even though he had his butt whipped, Pippen was still strong enough to withstand this gigantic outbreak and also defend his own. Moreover, Jordan learnt as much about and from Pippen as Pippen did from their sessions and practices together.

Pippen had had a reputation for wanting to guard the opposition’s best players during his college days. Not surprisingly, seeing the manic Jordan at work, in both practice and NBA games, that ticked off more on Pippen. He saw and realised soon that the game’s best player was no less demanding of his own defensive work ethic as his offensive repertoire, but also desired his teammates to show more heart and determination. Pippen knew that he could either dare to stand up or just be another teammate.

The 1988 playoffs saw Pippen displaying his potential and unlimited talent. However, not just his skills and talent, but also, a suspect determination and heart were evident too, most notably, his ‘migraine headaches’ during the epic bouts with Detroit for Eastern supremacy. Jordan was everywhere and anywhere, but Pippen was seemingly missing in crucial moments. Jordan never let him off. It took a momentous charge in 1990-91 to steamroll Chicago to their first NBA championship. Jordan, as usual, led as only he could. Pippen wasn’t too far behind.

So, how then, you would ask, did he give up during ‘that’ playoff game vs the Knicks in 1994, when he refused to enter the game’s last, crucial stage? Look at it this way – the daily pressures of trying to be like MJ, of being the team’s leader, of being so grossly underpaid and seemingly undervalued by his own management, and now, the final ignominy of handling a ball in for a young Turk, the man that Bulls manager Jerry Krause was openly flouting as the team’s savior, Toni Kukoc, meant that Pippen had had enough. Was he wrong or right? From an individual standpoint, Pippen’s act was his answer to all the mis-treatment he supposed from everyone else. Team-wise, it was a momentous failure. Bill Cartwright, the elder brother of the team, cried and let him know soon. Did Pippen learn from this? He did. And that is why when Jordan came back the next season, he welcomed him with open arms – Pippen knew that he needed Jordan as much as Jordan needed Pippen. And that type of respect and camaraderie, even if grudging at times, is no shame.

Pippen knew that because he had Jordan supporting him, egging him on, the physical battles with the Knicks, the Pistons, the Heat, etc, were conquerable. Because Jordan was adamant that none of his teammates, especially Pippen, would be psychologically battered, Jordan stood up for and with them. This is why Jordan was important for Pippen. Because Jordan was the elder brother who always had his back. And Jordan, to his credit, never took the credit alone for all his triumphs. Pippen was a constant name and presence whenever Jordan spoke about his struggles and his achievements. Jordan’s declaration of Pippen’s contribution, his presence, especially after the 1997 NBA Finals, where he called him his co-MVP, is a moment sadly conspicuous from NBA memory.

For people to malign and question this special relationship, I would suggest them to look back on some famous NBA duos in history, most notably, Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant. The reason why the Lakers duo flamed out is simple – they could not handle one another. Their egos were bigger than their objectives – each wanted the entire cake, and both of them would not budge an inch. Whose fault is it anyway? Does it matter, almost a decade later? It doesn’t, but I’m sure it will play on their minds, because when they think about the legacy they will leave behind, they will surely regret this – they could have been a duo for the ages, for all the right reasons, instead, they messed it up. Who knows, they could have gone to win more together.

Why do u think Phil Jackson left the team after the disastrous 2004 NBA Finals? Does anyone think that Jordan-Pippen would have ever stooped to such pathetic levels of infighting and let a coach of Jackson’s personality (not to forget, his impressive resume) resign and get away from the non-stop chaos? And that is why this relationship was so special. Jordan may have derided Pippen privately or publicly, Pippen may have caste a sigh of exasperation after Jordan’s many shot attempts, but they never made it personal and they never lingered on, each was emboldened by the other’s presence, advice, and criticism, and their objective was never compromised.

Jordan and Pippen were just right, for each other, for their team, for the NBA. As Jordan himself said, “Playing with Shawn would have been good, but it’s a lot better with Scottie around,” when the talks about Shawn Kemp’s trade to Chicago were happening. Now, Kemp was no ordinary player. He was a player who was Jordan’s equal in the 1996 NBA Finals, and was steadily rising in the NBA’s stratosphere.

Think of it this way – who else could Pippen have asked to present him for his HoF speech? Can you even think of any one single player or person? I truly can’t. I remember thinking this same question when the news about his selection arrived. I thought it was a toss-up between Jordan, Pippen’s ex-coach, Phil Jackson, or even Tex Winter, the pioneer of the famed Bulls’ triangle offense, or even Horace Grant or John Paxson. If Pippen had asked Jackson to, I don’t think he would have been rejected. Jackson loved and respected Pippen too much to hang on to that infamous game.

When the news came that it was going to be Jordan standing alongside Pippen, I chuckled. In a way, I felt that it was the best decision Pippen could have made. Anytime you think Jordan is a conniving, smooth corporate smuck, think about this - his respect, friendship for Pippen remains as strong as it always was. Pippen knew deep inside that his NBA legacy is, sadly or rightly, defined more by his symmetry with Jordan than perhaps his own otherworldly game and achievements, that because of Jordan, he went on to become one of the NBA’s 50 greatest players, and that it is perhaps a more valid argument that if Jordan couldn’t win without Pippen, Pippen himself wouldn't have been Scottie Pippen if it weren’t for Jordan.

Let’s be dead honest- would we have given Pippen the same undiluted attention if he were standing there alongside Grant, Paxson, or anyone else up there? No. You know it, I know it. It  is because Jordan was there, that is why we gave Pippen just more attention and care. And that’s why Pippen chose Jordan. If he hadn’t, “who could have thought that after 23 years, #23 would be here on the same stage with me” would have never happened.

When Pippen’s name was called aloud by the emcee, Ahmad Rashad, Pippen rose and looked back at Jordan. Jordan, knowing fully well how special this moment was for his buddy, gracefully stood in a distance and let Pippen lead. And to think, there were so many people saying that they hoped Jordan would not mess this moment for Pippen by saying something similar to his HoF address from last year. It is such a pity that after more than two decades of knowing and seeing these two, we still haven’t understood their basic humanity.

As they stood together in their respective spaces, Jordan smiled and nodded his head in respect to Pippen’s words. After it was over, they embraced and walked together. For superstars of such magnificence, this was a moment of greater magnitude and significance. This was a genuine, humane moment.

Lets try and remember them for what they were – majestic and wonderful together. Anything else will only fall short.

 

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