Scottie Pippen: Michael Jordan’s Retirement Bonded Bulls

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Scottie Pippen wanted to be better than MJ.

Yes, he said it…kinda!

A six-time NBA champion, seven-time NBA All-Star and USA Basketball Olympic gold medalist, Scottie Pippen says he wanted to be better than his Chicago Bulls teammate, Michael Jordan.

“There was something there to give me the confidence just to talk s**t,” Pippen told a packed house Monday evening in Manhattan at The Players’ Tribune. The discussion was part of the Players’ Tribune ‘90s Hoops series which explores the most pivotal era in hoops history with some of the superstars who lived it. The panel discussion was hosted by Michael Rapaport and also had Chicago Bulls and New York Knicks legend, Charles Oakley as a guest panelist.

“I had a journey like Oakley coming from a small school,” Pippen said. “Just having that confidence in myself instilled more confidence.”

To give the story some context, Charles Oakley told the crowd at The Players Tribune that Scottie Pippen said he was going to “be better than Michael Jordan.”

Pippen also discussed Michael Jordan’s retirement from basketball at the age of 30 and missing the 1993-94 NBA season.

“It didn’t put any pressure on myself,” said Pippen.

Statistically, Pippen did benefit. He averaged 22 points during the 1993-94 season and the Jordan-less Bulls went 55-27 that season. “We had 30 shots going back in the bucket losing Michael,” said Pippen.

“Our team bonded so well without Michael, as far as how players responded. We felt like our offense was made for the Knicks.”

Added Pippen: “We knew we could beat the Knicks without Michael.”

The Bulls did lose to the Patrick Ewing, Oakley, Anthony Mason and John Starks-led New York Knicks 4-3 in the Eastern Conference Semis in 1994.   

Scottie Pippen also discussed today’s American game vs. his 90s Bulls era. “A lot of Americans have lost jobs because we haven’t mastered the advantage of shooting the ball like our European counterparts,” said Pippen.

That statement by Pippen was in response to Oakley stating that he didn’t like hand-checking in the NBA. “Hand checking is good for the league and bad for the people watching at home,” said Oakley.

“Hand checking is good for Golden State.”

Pippen contends that he likes the evolution of the game today and when asked how he’d match up he was honest.  “I would not say I would be a great defender in this game,” he said. “But I would work to defend in a different way.”

Added Pippen: “I kinda like the way the game is going. I like the way guys shoot the ball.”

“I look at a guy like Kawhi [Leonard], he still is a leader in steals.”

A 6’7 small forward, Scottie Pippen flourished in Phil Jackson and Tex Winter’s triangle offense. That offense was predicated on guards, 6-6 or taller.

Think LeBron James, think Carmelo Anthony, Penny Hardaway, Tracy McGrady and Grant Hill.

Scottie Pippen, who admitted on the panel that Larry Bird was one of his biggest influences while he was a collegiate athlete a Central Arkansas, was the Bulls’ point forward and he did it well. While MJ gets a lot of credit defensively, Pippen helped Michael Jordan immensely on the help-side, defensively.

He admitted to be playing out of position when under former Bulls Head coach, Doug Collins, but finding his way when Collins was replaced by Phil Jackson. “I came in this league as a point guard and put at small forward,” said Pippen.

“I was kinda learning the game from a position that I was never put in.”

Pippen gives Phil Jackson a lot of credit. “Phil Jackson was really a players coach,” he said.

“He had a great understanding of how the game was evolving.”

Pippen listed Gary Payton, Larry Bird, Adrian Dantley as  the biggest trash talkers during his era and said that Dominique Wilkins was one of the “most underrated guys in the NBA”   and unfortunately he “had to guard him.”

In the history of the sport of basketball, there has been no greater era of growth, influence or transition than the 1990s. Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant and Allen Iverson. There was a championship-rich Eastern Conference that had rivalries.

The Bulls came up short against the Detroit Pistons on a multitude of occasions. The Bulls finally got over the hump when they beat “The Bad Boys” in the NBA’s Eastern Conference Finals in 1991.

While Oakley was gone at that point (if you’re tardy to the party, he was traded to the New York Knicks for Bill Cartwright), Pippen credits Oakley’s mental fortitude from years past in helping the Bulls get over the hump in ‘91.

“Charles Oakley helped us in the journey to beat the Detroit Pistons,” said Pippen.

Speaking of rivalries, Oakley and Karl Malone battled in the post during their heyday. “Karl Malone cried a lot,” said Oakley.

Rivalries, retirement, fashion and politics were all there at The Players Tribune with Scottie and Oak. They were the fabric of an NBA-era that was must-see TV.  Their war stories were candid and introduced a brand new era.

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