Scottie Pippen will be inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame tonight. To say his induction will be well-deserved is putting it rather lightly, don’t you think?
Pippen logged 41,609 minutes in 1,178 career games, scoring 18,940 points, grabbing 7,494 rebounds and dishing out 6,135 assists. I guess you could say he had a nice, all-around game.
That assist total, by the way, ranks 26th all time…ahead of legends like Larry Bird (5,695), Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (5,660) and Michael Jordan (5,633), not to mention scads of point guards and playmakers (such as Mookie Blaylock, Sam Cassell, Avery Johnson, Dennis Johnson, Doc Rivers, Mark Price, etc.). MJ gets most of the credit for leading the Bulls to six titles, but Pippen did his fair share of making teammates better.
As Sam Smith of Bulls.com wrote: “Steve Kerr used to recount times on the floor he’d go several minutes and not get a shot and become a bit wary. He said Pippen would run by him and say, ‘I know you haven’t gotten a shot. Don’t worry. Next time, I’ll get you one.’ Kerr said it was uncanny Pippen seemed to know what everyone on the court needed.”
On the subject of ranking high, Pippen is 13th all-time in steals per game (2.0) and 6th all-time in total steals (2,307), trailing only Maurice Cheeks (2,310), Jason Kidd (2,343), Gary Payton (2,445), Michael Jordan (2,514) and John Stockton (3,265). Maybe somebody should give him a black ski mask as a HoF induction gift.
You see, defense was Scottie’s bread and butter, which is why he made the All-NBA Defensive First Team eight straight times (1991-92 through 1998-99) and the All-NBA Defensive Second Team two other times (1990-91 and 1999-2000).
And if you enjoy advanced stats, it’s worth pointing out that Pippen finished in the top 10 in Defensive Rating five times (including a first place finish in 1994-95). He also finished with five top 10 finishes in Defensive Win Shares, a category in which he ranks 15th all-time. That rank puts him ahead of former teammates Jordan (19th) and Dennis Rodman (29th), both of whom are ranked among the NBA’s all-time great defensive forces.
Well, Pippen is right there with them. With anybody, really.
Here’s some wacky random for you. Do you even know how Scottie ended up on the Bulls? On November 12, 1986, the New York Knicks traded their 1987 1st round draft pick along with a 1990 2nd round draft pick (Steve Henson) to the Seattle Supersonics for Gerald Henderson and a 1987 1st round draft pick (Mark Jackson).
Then, on June 22, 1987, the Seattle Supersonics traded the draft pick they got from the Knicks (which would become Scottie) along with their 1989 1st round draft pick (Jeff Sanders) to the Chicago Bulls for Olden Polynice, a 1988 2nd round draft pick (Sylvester Gray) and a 1989 1st round draft pick (B.J. Armstrong, who was traded right back to the Bulls for Brad Sellers, whom Pippen made obsolete).
It was as “simple” as that.
No offense to Polynice and Gray, but the Bulls made out like friggin’ bandits in that deal. Even if there was no way they could have known that at the time. I mean, how can you predict a guy is going to make seven All-Star teams, seven All-NBA teams (first, second or third) and help guide your team to six championships?
I know it may seem like I’m reducing Pippen to stats, trivia and trophies. But I’m not. I’m really not. It’s just that I enjoy the perspective that Scottie’s accomplishments provide. The more subjective historical view will now and forever characterize Pippen as the Robin to Jordan’s Batman. ESPN’s J.A. Adande even described Pippen as the ultimate wingman.
The best second-best player ever. The meanest second fiddle that’s ever been played. The top second banana in league history. So on and so forth. This notion has been so ingrained in the consciousness of NBA fans that almost every time a team is searching for a compliment to an existing superstar, the would-be sidekick is usually described as a “Scottie Pippen type.”
I suppose some people would say that’s high praise. But personally, I think it detracts somewhat from Pippen’s greatness.
Yeah, I get that Scottie didn’t do the best job of ingratiating himself with an NBA fandom that never quite fully embraced him. There were problems. Like the migraine he got during one of the biggest games of his life. Or the 1.8-second boycott during one of the most important games of his life.
In January 1994, Pippen was arrested for possession of a firearm, although the charges were dropped after he accused the arresting officer of racism. Speaking of which, Pippen also accused Bulls fans of racism for not booing Tony Kukoc for stinking up the court.
During a 1995 game against the Spurs, he responded to his second technical foul (and the ensuing automatic ejection) by throwing a chair onto the court.
On top of all that, there were feuds with management, complaints about being underpaid, trade demands and even the threat that he might retire during Chicago’s final championship run in 1997-98.
Normally, these points are brought up to minimize Pippen’s place in history. I’m bringing them up because they didn’t matter. Not in terms of what Scottie accomplished on the court. Not in the big picture.
Forget the fact that he wasn’t as good as the greatest player of all time, who just so happened to be his teammate. Forget the distractions. Just look at what he did. Pippen doesn’t need to make any apologies for not making the most of his talent. He was a defensive demon. He could control a game without taking a shot. And he won. And won. And won.
In the end, those are the things that define Scottie Pippen.