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Saturday, June 26, 2021

Scottie Pippen Was One of Just Three Essential Members of the Chicago Bulls' Six Championship Teams

Scottie Pippen has never been afraid to speak his mind regardless of what other people may think, say, or do, and I find that quality refreshing. Ask Pippen about Kevin Durant, and Pippen will tell you that Durant should not have tried to beat the Milwaukee Bucks by himself in game seven but also that first year Coach Steve Nash made a mistake by playing Durant for so many minutes. Ask Pippen about Ben Simmons, and Pippen will tell you that Simmons' inability to shoot well and his consequent reluctance to shoot in the fourth quarter are nothing new, and that Coach Doc Rivers should have adjusted his late game rotations accordingly, much the way that even a player as great as Shaquille O'Neal would sometimes be pulled from a game because of his poor free throw shooting. 

Durant has proven not only that he is a great player but also that he has rabbit ears, so it is not surprising that he quickly clapped back at Pippen with a reference to the infamous 1.8 seconds that Pippen did not play at the end of game three of the 1994 Eastern Conference semifinals after Pippen was upset that Coach Phil Jackson designed the last shot for Toni Kukoc.

Dismissing Pippen's greatness based on "1.8 seconds" not only mischaracterizes that specific event, but fails to take into account the essential role he played on six championships teams. The numbers 25-8-6 (Pippen's point/rebound/assist totals in the Bulls' win in the next game after the infamous 1.8 seconds) speak eloquently not only about Pippen's talents but also about how thoroughly and quickly he healed any rift with his teammates. It is also important to remember that Pippen was a key member of three Chicago championship teams after those 1.8 seconds.

Only three main cogs participated in all six Chicago championship teams: Phil Jackson, Michael Jordan, and Scottie Pippen. Every other participant was replaceable, and was replaced. 

Those who are quick to assert that Jordan could and would have won six titles with any other coach running the team and any other star player alongside him should be reminded of several facts:

1) Prior to teaming up with Jackson and Pippen, Jordan's career playoff record was 1-9, with three first round losses.

2) After teaming up with Jackson and Pippen, Jordan failed to make the playoffs in two seasons with the Washington Wizards.

3) After winning six titles with the Bulls, Jackson won five more titles with the Lakers.

4) After Michael Jordan's first retirement in 1993, the Bulls replaced him in the starting lineup with Pete Myers, and went on to post a 55-27 record, just two wins less their 1992-93 record. The Pippen-led 1993-94 Bulls lost in seven games in the second round to the New York Knicks, who benefited from a game-deciding call by Hue Hollins in game five that Darell Garretson--one of the other officials on the court during that game--later publicly called "terrible."

5) After Jordan returned to the Bulls near the end of the 1994-95 season, the Bulls lost in six games in the second round of the playoffs.

6) Pippen was the heart and soul of Portland's 2000 team that pushed the eventual three-time champion L.A. Lakers to seven games in the Western Conference Finals. 

7) Pippen's playoff record without Jordan was 3-6 in series, and 19-21 in games. That may not look great at first glance, but it is much better than Jordan's playoff record without Pippen, and most of Pippen's playoff games without Jordan took place past Pippen's prime and after Pippen had major back surgery. Pippen went 1-1 in playoff series and 6-4 in playoff games in his only playoff run during his prime sans Jordan.

The above seven bullet points contain facts, not opinions or speculation. Those facts can be placed in context in a variety of ways, but the bottom line indisputable fact is that--of the three essential members of the Bulls' six championship teams--Jordan had the least playoff success on his own. That does not mean that Jordan was not great, but it does suggest that efforts to lionize Jordan while marginalizing the contributions of Jackson and Pippen do a disservice to the historical record.

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posted by David Friedman @ 3:01 AM



At Saturday, June 26, 2021 6:27:00 PM, Blogger Keith said...

Hi David,

I have to say I disagree with Pippen regarding the way Durant played. I liked the fact that Durant played every minute of the games that he could and that he went down fighting. I much prefer that to LeBron's tendency to defer and pass at the end of close games when he is often the best offensive player on the court. Maybe Nash and KD didn't do everything right in this instance but it was nice to see a player and a team take up that challenge like old stars used to do.

That said, Durant is obviously the sensitive type going by his social media response to some constructive criticism. And I'm sure Scottie is also tired of having his legacy unfairly denigrated.

At Sunday, June 27, 2021 1:05:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...


I don't necessarily agree with everything that Pippen says, but my points are (1) He provides honest assessments grounded in his experience as a six-time NBA champion, and (2) even if someone disagrees with Pippen it is a low blow to use "1.8" as some kind of shorthand to summarize Pippen's career. Durant presided over a blown 3-1 lead versus GSW and then he ran to team up with the Warriors the next season, so he lives in a glass house from which he should think twice about throwing stones at Pippen.

At Wednesday, June 30, 2021 7:50:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think Pippen used up his credibility (and his whiskey) when accusing Phil of being a racist for designing a play for Kukoc. His insecurities are on full display which is a shame since he's one of the greatest of all time.

He's a good analyst but is now clearly trying to provoke people to promote his Whiskey and his book.

At Wednesday, June 30, 2021 7:53:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The playoff records with or without the other players / coach are apples to oranges comparisons.

At Wednesday, June 30, 2021 9:38:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...


I understand why Pippen was (and is) upset about the play: not only does Pippen feel that he had the right to take the last shot as the best player on the team at that time, but also on the previous play Kukoc messed up the spacing, which prevented Pippen from getting a good shot for himself or creating a good shot for a teammate. So, Pippen felt/feels that Kukoc was a rookie who messed up the previous play and then was rewarded with the chance to take the last second shot. Pippen was going to get most if not all of the blame if the Bulls lost, so it is human nature that he felt/feels if he is going to get the blame then he wants the opportunity to make something good happen.

There have been other great players who balked at not being given the chance to take the last shot. To cite just two examples, Bernard King has told the story of saying to Coach Hubie Brown in a late game timeout, "Do I have the right to take the last shot?" and repeating the question until Brown changed the originally called play; also, Larry Bird wiped away a play drawn up on a whiteboard (I believe by K.C. Jones, though it may have been by Bill Fitch), and called his own number. The difference here is that after Pippen objected, Jackson held his ground and forced a confrontation, while the other coaches accorded more respect to their best player. I am not saying that Pippen was right, but I am just providing some historical context for what happened.

I agree with you that Pippen has not provided evidence that Jackson was/is racist. That is a very serious accusation to make at any time, and particularly without evidence. However, Pippen provided evidence that Jackson is disloyal or even Machiavellian, and both of those descriptions are well-supported by quality reporting over the years from both Roland Lazenby and Sam Smith. As Pippen put it, Jackson would say that the locker room is a "circle of trust" and that everything that is said/happens stays there--but then Jackson made money by writing tell-all books revealing what happened in that "circle of trust." Kobe Bryant forgave Jackson's betrayal, or at least came to accept it enough to work with him again; apparently, Pippen is still upset.

At Wednesday, June 30, 2021 9:43:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...


If you want to be technical, few comparisons are "apples to apples"; as I noted in the article, a lot of context can be provided regarding the facts that I listed, but those who assert that Jordan could have won six titles without Pippen are obliged to provide facts that support that assertion, because the record shows that Jordan had very little playoff success (one win--in a game, not a series) without Pippen, while Pippen led the Bulls to the second round and the Blazers to the Conference Finals without Jordan. My point is that Pippen was an essential part of the Bulls' championship success; I am not saying that he was better than Jordan, or that Jordan could not have won more than one playoff game if he spent his whole career without Pippen.


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