Scottie Pippen Reflects on Famous Trash Talk to Karl Malone During 1997 Finals

Tim Daniels@TimDanielsBRFeatured ColumnistMay 15, 2020

6 Jun 1997:  Forward Scottie Pippen of the Chicago Bulls chats with forward Karl Malone of the Utah Jazz during a playoff game at the Delta Center in Salt Lake City, Utah.  The Jazz won the game 104-93. Mandatory Credit: Jed Jacobsohn  /Allsport
Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images

Chicago Bulls legend Scottie Pippen says he delivered one of the greatest lines of trash talk in sports history on the fly during Game 1 of the 1997 NBA Finals.

As Utah Jazz superstar Karl Malone prepared to shoot two free throws late in a tie game on Sunday, June 1, 1997, Pippen said to him, "The Mailman doesn't deliver on Sundays."

"It was off the top of my head, freestyle," Pippen told ESPN's David Fleming as part of a look back at the famous line.

Malone, a career 74.2 percent free-throw shooter, missed both attempts from the charity stripe with nine seconds remaining and the score tied at 82. It opened the door for Michael Jordan to hit a game-winning jumper at the buzzer to give the Bulls an 84-82 victory. Chicago went on to win the series in six games.

The fact that the comment came from the typically quiet Pippen rather than Jordan, a notorious trash talker, might be what made it stick.

Karen McDermott, who authored a study entitled "The Effects of Verbal Insults on Motivation and Performance in a Competitive Setting," explained the reason for that phenomenon to Fleming:

"When you're used to someone talking trash all the time, you can learn to filter it out. But if it comes from an unexpected source, it strikes in your mind even more. So if he had expected it from Jordan or [Dennis] Rodman and that's not where it came from, and it hits you blind side, the lack of expectation makes it more impactful."

Pippen said he realized the trash talk was effective after Malone "bricked" the free-throw attempts, but he was disappointed the line became public because of his friendship with the Mailman.

"I hate that that quote ever got out because no one really got it," he told Fleming. "It was more of a joke between us."

The moment set the stage for the Bulls' triumph over the Jazz not only in the 1997 Finals but also in the 1998 championship series. The rematch between the teams resulted in the sixth and final title of the Bulls' dynastic run of the 1990s and is currently being reviewed in the documentary series The Last Dance.

"To this day, I think that's the greatest line in basketball," Pippen told Fleming.

While Jordan was the unquestioned driving force behind Chicago's success, the under-the-radar work being done by Pippen was critical to the title runs.

In most cases, his on-court production contributed to victories, but on at least one famous occasion, his timely words made the difference.