Scottie Pippen 'Probably Wouldn't Change' Playoff Self-Benching vs Knicks in '94

Joseph Zucker@@JosephZuckerFeatured ColumnistMay 11, 2020

The Chicago Bulls' Scottie Pippen sits on the floor during a break in the action of the third quarter of the Semifinal Playoff Game with the New York Knicks in Chicago, Friday, May 13, 1994. Questions are being asked after Pippen sat on the bench as the Bulls beat the Knicks 104-102, on Toni Kukoc's last second shot. (AP Photo/John Swart)
John Swart/Associated Press

Scottie Pippen offered somewhat contradictory opinions regarding his refusal to walk on to the court in the final seconds of the Chicago Bulls' 104-102 victory over the New York Knicks in Game 3 of the 1994 Eastern Conference Finals.

Phil Jackson had drawn up a play for Toni Kukoc to take the final shot on an inbound pass from Pippen, which didn't sit well with Pippen.

"I felt like it was an insult coming from Phil," Pippen said during the seventh episode of The Last Dance. "I was the most dangerous guy on our team. So why are you asking me to take the ball out?"

The Hall of Famer remained on the bench while Kukoc hit a game-winner as time expired.

Chicago Bulls @chicagobulls

Tied at 102 with 1.8 seconds left in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals against the New York Knicks, Toni Kukoc hit the game-winner, a 23-foot fadeaway jumper at the buzzer on this day in 1994 👀🚨 https://t.co/9P3ioZgXGN

Horace Grant and Steve Kerr said in the documentary that Pippen began crying in the locker room after the game once the gravity of his actions became apparent.

However, Pippen remained somewhat unapologetic about his decision: "It's one of those incidents that I wish had never happened. But if I had a chance to do it all over again, I probably wouldn't change it."  

It's important to put Pippen's choice in the proper context.

This was the first year after Michael Jordan's first retirement, so the Bulls were unquestionably Pippen's team at that moment. He had averaged career highs in points (22.0), rebounds (8.7) and steals (2.9) per game while dishing out 5.6 assists per contest. He had also finished third in the NBA MVP voting, trailing only Hakeem Olajuwon and David Robinson.

This wasn't LeBron James calling an audible and overruling David Blatt's inbound play in Game 4 of the Cleveland Cavaliers' 2015 second-round series against the Chicago Bulls.

Blatt hadn't built anywhere near the same kind of equity and respect Jackson had after helping guide the Bulls to three straight championships.

In what was one of the biggest moments of Chicago's season, Pippen not only bristled at Jackson's strategy, but he also didn't even want to enter the game.

While that is far from the defining moment of Pippen's career, it was a stunning move by one of the NBA's greatest players.