When one thinks of the NBA in its pre-woke days, assuming one’s memory in life goes farther back than mandatory face masks, the Chicago Bulls come to mind. Winner of six championships in eight years, led by the incomparable Michael Jordan, the Bulls and Jordan defined dominance. Or, more accurately, Jordan and the Bulls. Not that he was completely a one-man show, but when it came time to take over a game and/or take the winning shot, the ball was in Jordan’s hands before it was through the hoop. It is apparent that Jordan’s teammate Scottie Pippen, himself an extremely accomplished player, has spent the past two decades growing ever more resentful of Jordan’s being widely heralded as the greatest basketball player of all time and Pippen being an afterthought. This boiled over earlier this week, when in an interview with Dan Patrick he reiterated, in reference to an incident during the 1994 playoffs when he refused to leave the bench after head coach Phil Jackson called a play for Tony Kukoc instead of him, his assertion that Jackson’s motivation was, and Jackson himself is, racist.
Pippen first made his accusation in a GQ interview, when in the course of insisting he and not Jordan deserves the lion’s share of credit for the Bulls success, he said the following about the 1994 playoff incident:
It was my first year playing without Michael Jordan, why wouldn’t I be taking that last shot? I been through all the ups and downs, the battles with the Pistons and now you gonna insult me and tell me to take it out? I thought it was a pretty low blow. I felt like it was an opportunity to give [Kukoc] a rise. It was a racial move to give him a rise. After all I’ve been through with this organization, now you’re gonna tell me to take the ball out and throw it to Toni Kukoc? You’re insulting me. That’s how I felt.
For the record, Kukoc made the shot and the Bulls won the game. However, they lost the playoff series. The 1994 series in question was played without Jordan, who had “retired” from basketball following the 1992-1993 season in which he had led the Bulls to their third straight championship in order to try his hand at baseball. Such was also the case in 1995, when the Bulls again lost in the playoffs. Jordan returned to the Bulls for the 1995-1996 season, it being the first of another run of three consecutive championships. If Pippen was the team leader as he claimed, he had a funny way of showing it.
What is more disturbing than Pippen’s delusions of grandeur is his labeling Jackson, who won two NBA titles as a player and eleven as a head coach, a racist. Jackson has thus far declined to respond to Pippen’s charge. Shaquille O’Neal, who played for Jackson when he coached the Los Angeles Lakers, has refuted Pippen’s accusation.
Sometimes, one has to accept one’s role as being a wingman. Scottie Pippen has yet to figure this out. If anything, he’s getting worse at the job.