Among the best players in NBA history, Scottie Pippen has always played in the imposing shadow of Michael Jordan.
With the documentary series The Last Dance, many people are learning about the legendary Chicago Bulls player Scottie Pippen. Yes, not even the great Michael Jordan won his six titles in six finals alone. Scottie Pippen is the only GOAT teammate to have been in all six winning campaigns… and that’s no accident. Without this true luxury lieutenant, there would likely never have been a dominance of the Illinois franchise. However, Pip’ is still underestimated, because he has been in the shadow of the GOAT throughout his career.
« When Michael Jordan left in 1993, ScottiePippen was the best player in the world__. If people didn’t know it, he led the team in every statistical category. Every category. Scottie earned his stripes in 1991 when the Bulls beat the Detroit Pistons. When Michael left, Scottie took over and he was the best player in the world. People don’t know that, » said Dennis Rodman, Jordan and Pippen’s teammate from 1995 to 1998.
The missing piece to the Bulls puzzle
Before Scottie Pippen came to the Chicago Bulls, MJ was already tormenting the league, but it wasn’t translating into collective dominance. Pippen’s arrival in 1987, combined with Phil Jackson’s more collective approach in 1989, put the Bulls on the map as one of the best teams in the league. However, Scottie Pippen started from a very poor background.
Coming from a poor family in Arkansas, he was the only one of his eleven siblings to go to college because of lack of money. In college, and unlike other future NBA greats, he was not part of the prestigious NCAA circuit but NAIA… and he didn’t have a scholarship either. No one when he arrived at Central Arkansas would have bet on a future in the NBA for him. And yet; going from 6’3″ to 6’3″ in four years there, he also saw a significant growth in his statistical contribution, going from 4.3 to 23.6 points per game! In 1987, his versatility, combined with rare athletic abilities interested NBA scouts… You know the rest.
Engine of the triangle game wanted by coach Phil Jackson with Michael Jordan, who will quickly take him under his wing, Pippen is now considered the other symbol of the Chicago Bulls. « When we talk about Michael Jordan, we should talk about Scottie Pippen. Everyone says I won all those championships. But I didn’t win without Scottie Pippen__. That’s why I consider him my best teammate, » Michael Jordan said.
A perfect complement to Jordan, Pippen focused on defense (slowing down the great Magic Johnson in the 1991 Finals, that’s him) and teamwork while number 23 tormented opponents on offense. The best of the best actions of the two phenomena often show Pippen on the initiative on an exceptional defensive exploit, or on the pass, with MJ at the conclusion, no less exceptional.
« Scottie was an incredible basketball player and I think he’s still underrated. I think he would have been extremely good in the modern NBA game. He could have defended every position every game. There isn’t a pivot in the league that he couldn’t defend today, or even a point guard on pick and rolls. Scottie was a brilliant basketball player; and I think one of the reasons he was loved, not only by Michael, but by all of us, is because he was a perfect complement to Michael. » – Steve Kerr, former Bulls player and current Golden State Warriors coach
Michael Jordan’s 18-month hiatus between 1993 and 1995
For a year and a half, Scottie Pippen had the opportunity to play without Michael Jordan for the Chicago Bulls. During the first retirement of the GOAT, the usual lieutenant of luxury became the leader of the franchise. The result for him: 22 points, 8.7 rebounds, 5.6 assists and 2.9 steals per game, a selection to the league’s all-star team and an All-Star MVP award. Above all, he finished third in the voting for the MVP of the regular season! And what about the team? During the regular season, the Bulls lost only two more games than the previous season. In the playoffs, however, the franchise went from winning the NBA title to being eliminated in the conference semifinals by the New York Knicks… If Pippen was great, he was not great enough to carry Chicago alone on his broad shoulders.
If the collective performances were therefore less, Pippen definitely proved in the absence of MJ that he was indeed a great player; for those who doubted it.
Salary: a symbol of the difference in treatment between Jordan and Pippen
Important point raised by The Last Dance, the question of Scottie Pippen’s salary, a true symbol of the difference in status with Michael Jordan. During the 1997-1998 season of the Chicago Bulls, the GOAT was paid 33.14 million dollars, a record at the time! Pippen was paid 2.78 million dollars; in the last year of a 7-year, 18 million dollar contract, which he had signed in 1991… for fear of injury. With a brother and a father with motor disabilities, he didn’t want to risk a long-term injury and lose that $18 million in injury.
Never experiencing that injury, this contract proved to be a golden deal for the Bulls, and a real burden for a Pippen who was among the best players in the league. Selected to the third best team in the league playing half the games… He was only the 122nd highest paid player in the 1997-98 season. Obviously underpaid, Pippen made up for it in 1998 by signing a 5-year, $67.2 million contract with the Rockets… before ending his career with the Bulls, who made amends with a 2-year, $10.3 million contract. In total, Pippen will have earned $110 million in salary over 18 seasons. And Jordan? 93.8 million dollars, in 16 seasons.
Ultimate defender, great passer, Scottie Pippen was crucial for the Bulls and Michael Jordan. Thanks to him, MJ was able to concentrate on the attack, but also to play more minutes. If he remains so underestimated today, it is because he was in the shadow of the best player of all time… and that after having tasted the role of leader, he realized that he preferred to be the « sidekick »; leaving all the light to his teammate.