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Friday, November 12, 2021

Scottie Pippen's Life Story Should Be Read, Admired, and Emulated

In an era when some people are often praised for telling "their truth" even if that "truth" diverges from evidence-based reality, why does the autobiography of one of pro basketball's greatest players make so many people not only cringe but feel compelled to publicly rebuke that player?

Scottie Pippen's Unguarded has attracted a lot of media attention, much of it negative. 

Why do people get upset by what Scottie Pippen writes/says, and why does Pippen care so little about what other people think?

On the surface, these are simple questions, but the answers to these questions reveal a lot not only about Pippen but also about the mainstream media and our society in general. Our society enjoys being fed simple narratives, and mainstream media members are paid to create simple narratives. If you stick to the popular narrative, you will remain popular. If you challenge the popular narrative, you will be attacked.

Some professional athletes are masters at creating and/or promoting simple narratives; they tell media members what the media members want to hear, and the media members in turn give the general public a narrative that is favorable for the athlete who provides them with soundbites that they can use.

"Michael Jordan is the greatest basketball player of all-time" is a simple narrative. There is evidence supporting the validity of that statement, but there is also evidence supporting the notion that Michael Jordan is not the greatest basketball player of all-time--and, more to the point, there is evidence that there is no objective way of determining that one player is better than every other player who ever played basketball.

"Michael Jordan was Batman and Scottie Pippen was Robin" is a simple narrative. The complex reality that Jordan and Pippen formed perhaps the greatest and most versatile duo in basketball history does not fit within the confines of that simple narrative, but--as Pippen said in a recent interview--he brought out the best in Jordan and Jordan brought out the best in him. As a result, Jordan and Pippen led the Chicago Bulls to six championships. Pippen emphasizes that basketball is a team sport, not an individual sport--but that goes against the simple, hero-driven narrative that can be traced back for decades; think of the famous marquee promoting not Lakers versus Knicks but rather George Mikan versus the Knicks: if Mikan's teammates had stayed in the locker room, could Mikan have beaten five Knicks by himself?

Understand how this works and then you understand why Jalen Rose calls Pippen the most underrated great player of all-time; the simple narrative idolizing Jordan leaves no room for Pippen to be anything more than a member of Jordan's supporting cast. Contrast Rose's perspective with the bleatings of "Screamin' A" Smith promoting simple pro-Jordan narratives while blasting Pippen for telling his life story. Rose works for ESPN but he has shown on multiple occasions that he does not feel compelled to stick with simple pre-determined narratives, and "Screamin' A" has repeatedly demonstrated that he is incapable of doing anything other than loudly spewing the same narratives over and over.

Pippen was selected to both the NBA's 50 Greatest Players List and the NBA's 75th Anniversary Team, but he is often belittled in a way that other great players are not: his bad moments are magnified, his significant contributions to six championships are minimized, and he is sometimes dismissed as a player who could only thrive as the second option behind Michael Jordan but was not capable of leading a team as the first option. These criticisms of Pippen are asinine and demonstrably false, and it is not surprising nor is it wrong for Pippen to resent these attacks on his basketball legacy.

In Scottie Pippen's Place in Basketball History, I noted that Phil Jackson once declared, "Scottie was our team leader. He was the guy that directed our offense and he was the guy that took on a lot of big challenges defensively...the year that Michael retired, Scottie I think was the most valuable player in the league." Pippen's former teammate Bill Cartwright said that Pippen "was as much a part of winning the championships as MJ. I don't think it would have gotten done without him." I also pointed out that when Pippen was 37 years old The Oregonian selected him as the midseason MVP of the 2002-03 Trail Blazers: "Statistics don't tell the whole story with Pippen, whose ability to guard anyone from Atlanta Hawks power forward Shareef Abdur-Rahim to San Antonio Spurs point guard Tony Parker to Boston Celtics small forward Paul Pierce has given the Blazers incredible versatility." Further, Tex Winter--who had a front row seat as a Bulls' assistant coach watching Jordan and Pippen--stated, "Jordan always felt Pippen was something special. Michael realized how easy it was to play with him and how he helped make his teammates better. It's often said Jordan needed Pippen and Pippen needed Jordan. I'm not sure Jordan didn't need Pippen more than Pippen needed Jordan."

Being honest is no guarantee of always being right, but being honest does guarantee that you are going to upset many people, including people who are powerful and who have a vested interest in repressing your honest statements.

Scottie Pippen is honest about what he thinks and how he feels. He has never participated in mass market simple narrative creation. He speaks his mind with no filter, regardless of whether or not his opinion conforms with popular narratives, and regardless of whether or not his opinion may offend other people. As I put it in 2007, Scottie Pippen is No Diplomat, but He Knows Basketball; when Pippen was asked his thoughts about the Chicago Bulls' current players, he offered his candid assessment. For example, Pippen said that Tyrus Thomas "dribbles better with his left hand than his right. He must have broken his arm when he was a kid. He shouldn't be dribbling. He should be a fetcher. Like Ben Wallace, (Joakim) Noah, go get the ball." Pippen declared that Ben Wallace "doesn't know the game like Dennis Rodman did. Dennis knew how and why he got rebounds. So you keep on him (Wallace) or he doesn't play." Thomas was the fourth overall pick in the 2006 draft, and the Bulls acquired him from Portland by trading away the rights to LaMarcus Aldridge. It is obvious that Pippen's assessment of Thomas was correct, but what Pippen said is not what the Bulls wanted to hear at that time. Wallace was an impactful player, but anyone who saw both Rodman and Wallace play understands that Rodman had a better overall grasp of the game in terms of setting screens, passing, and contributing in ways beyond rebounding and defense. Neither player was an offensive threat as a scorer, but Rodman was more of an offensive threat than Wallace and demonstrated a higher overall basketball IQ than Wallace, as Pippen correctly noted. 

Scottie Pippen has a genius level basketball IQ, and he is not afraid to express unfiltered opinions about the sport that he understands so well.

Contrary to mainstream media portrayals, Unguarded is not vindictive in tone, nor is it focused on attacking or diminishing Michael Jordan (or anyone else). Unguarded tells the remarkable story of a boy from Hamburg, Arkansas who was one of 12 children, who began his college basketball career without a scholarship, and who worked so hard on his craft that he provided generational wealth to his family while earning official recognition as one of the NBA's greatest players ever. Pippen was an unselfish player who served as the de facto point guard on offense and as the linchpin to team success on defense.

Pippen's life story is inspirational and uplifting.

This is the man and the athlete who should be the focus of so much criticism? Ray Lewis pled guilty to obstruction of justice in an unsolved double murder, and Brett Favre was a selfish player who is also accused of welfare fraud for receiving funds for speeches that he never gave, but Scottie Pippen is the retired Hall of Famer who must be shouted down and demeaned? This is not surprising behavior by the media--I previously questioned why Ray Lewis is lionized and Terrell Owens is demonized--but it is very disappointing.

Pippen begins Unguarded by recalling the bullying incident at school which paralyzed his brother Ronnie from the neck down when Ronnie was just 13 years old. Pippen describes how the school officials did nothing to stop the bullying before the fateful attack, and he discusses the horrible mistreatment that Ronnie endured in the hospital. Eventually, Pippen's parents were able to bring Ronnie home. It took years of hard work for Ronnie to regain some of his mobility. Pippen concludes, "He has inspired me like no one else...I'm not the biggest success story in the Pippen family. He is" (p. 4). 

About 10 years after Ronnie was paralyzed, Pippen's father Preston suffered a debilitating stroke that left him wheelchair bound and rendered him unable to communicate much verbally. The family rallied around Preston to help and support him the same way that the family helped Ronnie. Preston passed away a few years later, during the 1990 playoffs. 

Pippen describes how poor his family was, but he adds, "In spite of everything, I never felt poor. I felt blessed" (p. 7). Pippen says that when he was younger he did not think about how his early experiences influenced his mindset but now that he is in his fifties he reflects back and realizes that how much the challenges experienced by his brother and his father impacted his thinking. Pippen knows that he is portrayed as naive or stupid for signing a long-term contract that soon resulted in him being underpaid relative to his value, but at that time he felt that he could not risk being left with nothing if he got injured and was no longer able to play. A five year, $18 million contract was something that he could not pass up after seeing two examples of how your entire life can change in an instant.

Becoming an NBA player fulfilled Pippen's improbable childhood dream. His favorite basketball player is Julius Erving. Pippen declares, "Talk about charisma. There has been no one in the sport like Dr. J ever since. Sorry, MJ. Sorry, Magic. Sorry, LeBron. Whenever one of Dr. J's games was on TV, I couldn't take my eyes off him" (p. 14). 

However, when Pippen was a young, small point guard, his nickname on the playground was Maurice Cheeks, the heady Hall of Fame point guard who was Erving's teammate for many years and who later coached Pippen in Portland near the end of Pippen's career. 

To say Pippen was not highly recruited is an understatement. He received no college offers except for an opportunity to go to the University of Central Arkansas on a work-study program. Pippen would not be able to play in any of the basketball team's games, but he would be permitted to work out with the team. Pippen received a basketball scholarship only after two players quit the team. Pippen averaged just 4.3 ppg as a freshman, but he was elated to have the opportunity to play in all 20 of the team's games.

While attending college, Pippen grew from a skinny 6-1 point guard to a 6-7 player with point guard skills and a forward's size, and he became a two-time NAIA All-American. Pippen's contentious interactions with Jerry Krause, the Chicago Bulls' longtime general manager, are well-documented, but Pippen gives Krause credit for recognizing his talents from the beginning. Pippen writes about Krause, "There isn't one word I wish I could take back. At the same time, give the man his due. He could spot talent where others couldn't..." (p. 40). That is not a vindictive or vengeful assessment by Pippen; that is honesty: he had his disagreements with Krause and he regrets nothing that he said about Krause, but he also respects Krause's ability to scout players. Krause made a trade with Seattle to swap first round picks and acquire Pippen. 

Regarding his early interactions with Jordan, Pippen does not belabor the point but it is obvious that he was never intimidated by Jordan. Sure, Jordan challenged Pippen on the court--Jordan challenged everyone--but Pippen went right back at Jordan, and Pippen is one of the few players in basketball history who had the physical skills and the mental toughness necessary to compete with Jordan. We have read, seen, and heard many stories about Jordan berating and belittling players, but those stories never involve Pippen. Pippen says that he constantly worked to improve his game, but he never sought Jordan's approval. Pippen's work ethic and determination to be great were formed long before he ever met Jordan, so the simple narrative that Jordan molded Pippen into greatness does not make much sense. Jordan was just entering his fourth season when Pippen was a rookie. Jordan's Bulls had a 1-9 playoff record up to that point, so Jordan was not in a position to give anyone lessons about what it takes to be an NBA champion. After Jordan's first retirement the Bulls--with Pippen as the undisputed best player on the team and, arguably, the best player in the NBA--went 6-4 in the playoffs, with perhaps only one terrible Hue Hollins call preventing them from returning to the NBA Finals. 

Pippen recalls that the first NBA game he saw in person was his first preseason game. Think about that: one of the NBA's 50 greatest players had never even been to an NBA game until he joined the Chicago Bulls. Pippen was used to having hard-driving coaches in high school and college, but he resented the way that Doug Collins publicly berated him and other players, particularly because Collins rarely said anything negative to or about Jordan. Pippen writes that he is not surprised that Collins became a respected TV commentator, and he acknowledges that Collins has a great basketball mind. Pippen says that he learned a lot from Collins, but that he did not appreciate Collins' coaching style. Those words may not go over well in a basketball community in which Collins is a highly regarded figure, but everything that Pippen asserts is true and easily verifiable.

By nature, Pippen finds it difficult to trust people, and his relationship with the Bulls' front office was strained by several situations in which he felt betrayed. During his rookie season, Pippen had serious pain radiating down his legs. The medical staff insisted that he was just having muscle spasms. It is baffling that no trainer or doctor figured out that Pippen was experiencing radiculopathy (the medical term for nerve pain in the legs caused by a herniated disc in the back). Pippen did not receive a correct diagnosis until he was evaluated by a doctor not affiliated with the team, and Pippen eventually needed back surgery, which took place after his rookie season and caused him to miss the start of his second season. Pippen resents not only that the Bulls misdiagnosed him, but that Collins and others in the organization questioned his toughness. 

Pippen describes how Collins marginalized and at times even mocked veteran assistant coach Tex Winter. Meanwhile, the youngest assistant coach on the staff--Phil Jackson--made a name for himself with his thorough scouting reports and engaging communication style. Jackson, who is not quite the contemplative monk he portrays himself to be, also knew how to curry favor within the highest power structures of an organization, a skill that he displayed throughout his coaching career. Even though Collins led the Bulls to the 1989 Eastern Conference Finals, he was fired that offseason and replaced by Jackson. One of the reasons that Jackson was hired to replace Collins is that the team needed a coach who was not afraid to challenge Jordan, and another reason is that Jerry Krause wanted to implement Tex Winter's Triangle Offense, but Collins resisted doing this.

Nothing that Pippen writes about Collins is vindictive, or even surprising. Sam Smith and Roland Lazenby have both written about what happened behind the scenes before Jackson replaced Collins as Chicago's coach, but Pippen lived through the situation so it is valuable to have his firsthand account. Pippen's description of Collins' coaching style is in line with recent comments made by Kwame Brown about what it was like to play for Collins in Washington when Collins catered to elder statesman Jordan the same way that Collins catered to young superstar Jordan.  

In contrast to Collins yelling at players and embarrassing players, Pippen recalls that Jackson "was critical in a constructive way. He didn't embarrass us in front of our fans or teammates. He pulled guys off to the side or asked one of the assistant coaches to explain what we did wrong. I felt respected as a player and, more important, as a man" (p. 86). Pippen describes Jackson's practices as well-organized, and says that the team expended just enough energy to stay sharp while also preserving enough energy to play hard during the games. Jackson implemented Tex Winter's Triangle Offense, but Jackson was smart enough to run isolation plays for Jordan in the fourth quarter if the Triangle Offense was not working. The Triangle Offense provided a structure that kept everyone involved, and it forced the defense to chase Jordan when Jordan did not have the ball--but the Bulls never forgot that they had the sport's greatest closer if/when they needed him.

Pippen describes the challenges the Bulls faced in learning how to run the Triangle Offense. One of the biggest challenges was convincing Jordan to give up the ball and trust his teammates to make the right decisions. Pippen notes that Jordan was used to holding the ball for five or six seconds, but Pippen adds that even at his worst Jordan never monopolized the ball the way that James Harden did during his time in Houston. Pippen recalls watching Harden and thinking to himself, "For God's sake, James, stop dribbling!" 

Pippen is not afraid to shatter simple narratives, but if you are a media member getting paid to promote Jordan as the greatest player ever and to promote James Harden as the greatest scorer ever then expert commentary from Pippen refuting your simple narratives threatens your livelihood and your status. Keep that thought in mind when various media members criticize Pippen's firsthand account of his NBA career.

To Pippen, Jordan is a great player--Pippen admits that he would have wanted the ball in no other player's hands during last second moments such as the famous shot to beat the Cleveland Cavaliers in the 1989 playoffs--but the story of the Chicago Bulls is the story of a team coming together, not the heroic one man quest of Michael Jordan triumphing against all odds (including overcoming the teammates he derisively considered to be his supporting cast instead of viewing them as his partners).

To Pippen, Harden is not a basketball superhero but just a player who dribbles the ball too much instead of focusing on team success.

I am baffled by the notion that Pippen's book and the comments that he has made during his book promotion tour indicate that he derives no joy from his time with the Bulls. Pippen makes it quite clear that the joy he derives comes from how a team worked together to win six titles. Ask any of Pippen's teammates and, to a man, they will tell you what a great teammate he was, and how he lifted them up, particularly after Jordan often broke them down with harsh remarks. Pippen views basketball as a team game, and he is offended by the media's attempts to transmogrify the Bulls' team success into a simple narrative focused entirely on deifying Michael Jordan. Pippen's recollections and fondest memories of those six championship seasons revolve around what the team accomplished as a group. 

Pippen is not a person who has many regrets, but in Unguarded he says that he should have made more of an effort to reach out to Jordan after Jordan's father was killed during the summer of 1993. Pippen states that he will regret that for the rest of his life. I wonder why those passages from the book and those heartfelt sentiments are not emphasized in the media coverage of the book.

I wonder if anyone who has blasted Pippen and Unguarded has read the entire book.

Pippen notes that he played in 1386 NBA games (regular season and playoffs combined), yet there is inordinate focus on 1.8 seconds from those games. He also questions why a documentary about "The Last Dance" (which is what Phil Jackson called the Bulls' 1997-98 season) dwells on 1.8 seconds from a 1994 playoff game. Pippen asks, "Why then did Michael find it necessary to bring it up again? Did he consider for a moment how it might affect me and my legacy? Besides, he wasn't on the team in 1994. He was playing baseball" (p. XIX). Pippen says that it is fair to ask him questions about those 1.8 seconds--and he devotes an entire chapter in Unguarded to answering those questions--but he insists that those 1.8 seconds do not belong in "The Last Dance." Pippen adds that it is fair that "The Last Dance" mentions his 1997 delayed surgery and his trade demand, because those things were a part of that season; however, he declares that Jordan should not call him selfish because Jordan displayed selfishness on many occasions, from retiring right before the 1993-94 season (thus providing the Bulls no time to try to replace him on the roster) to the way that Jordan played in game six of the 1992 NBA Finals. Pippen recalls that Phil Jackson, at the urging of assistant coach Tex Winter, took Jordan out of that game six because Jordan was forcing shots and the Bulls were trailing by 15 points. With Pippen and four reserves on the court, the Bulls rallied, and then Jordan returned in the final moments to join Pippen as the Bulls sealed the deal to win their second championship in a row. 

Pippen is right to question why on the one hand the 1.8 seconds scenario was featured so prominently in "The Last Dance" but on the other hand his key role in the game six comeback was minimized. Pippen believes that these editorial choices were made in order to portray Jordan as a one man team. Is that an unreasonable perspective for Pippen to have about how he and his teammates were depicted in a documentary over which Jordan had creative control?

While "The Last Dance" aired, I wrote Remember 25-8-6 About Scottie Pippen, Not 1.8:

An objective examination of the record shows that the Bulls would not have won a single title without Pippen. Michael Jordan won one playoff game--not one playoffs series, but one playoff game--without Pippen. Pippen was an MVP-level player for the 1994 Bulls team that lost in game seven of the Eastern Conference semifinals, and he was the leader of the 2000 Trail Blazers team that lost in game seven of the Western Conference Finals. Pippen's defense against Magic Johnson in the 1991 NBA Finals and against Mark Jackson in the 1998 Eastern Conference Finals played a major role in Chicago's victories in those series. Pippen was a rare player who could dominate a game without taking a shot.

During Jordan's first retirement, Pippen emerged as an All-NBA First Team/MVP-caliber player, and he remained an All-NBA First Team/MVP-caliber player for several years, until age and back surgery slowed him down in 1999. Pippen is without question one of the top 25 basketball players of all-time--not a Pantheon-level player, but securely in the next category of greatness.

Michael Jordan is an iconic historical figure whose impact transcended the NBA, and he is understandably the focus of "The Last Dance." His viewpoint dominates the narrative not only because he is the central figure, but also because the footage would have never been seen by the public without his approval. All of that being said and acknowledged, it must also be said and acknowledged that Pippen was not some minor character in this epic-length drama; Pippen was Jordan's co-star during those title runs, and the story would not exist--the Bulls would not have been a dynasty--without Pippen.

It is indisputable and inarguable that Scottie Pippen Was One of Just Three Essential Members of the Chicago Bulls' Six Championship Teams:

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.

What is your vision of the ideal basketball player? You might say, "My ideal player is unselfish and he focuses more on team goals than his individual accolades. He has no skill set weaknesses: he can score from all levels (in the paint, midrange, three point range), he can rebound, he is a talented and willing passer, he can handle the ball, and he not only can defend his position but he can defend multiple positions while demonstrating a high level understanding of team defensive concepts. He is quick, explosive, and he is big enough to play inside yet nimble enough to play on the perimeter."

Or, if you wanted to be concise, you could just say "Scottie Pippen." Pippen is one of the few players in basketball history who fits the above description of the ideal basketball player.

Read Unguarded, and then ask yourself this question: "Why are so many members of the mainstream media focused on portraying Pippen in a negative light?"

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posted by David Friedman @ 7:03 PM



At Friday, November 12, 2021 9:12:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I've watched several of Pippen's recent interviews and he's coming across like a Salieri to Jordan's Mozart. Bitter and envious and mad in a petty kind of way, that he was never quite the talent that was Michael Jordan. Jordan COMMANDED respect from day one from the time he was under Dean Smith, like, from all in his wake. But Pippen was and is the type that DEMANDS respect, which is why it will never be forthcoming to the extent that he wants it. Jordan was so good that he was demonstrably superior to any and all competition, but yes, it took Phil Jackson and the triangle offense and a more mature Scottie Pippen & co. to demonstrate his superiority by way of six championships.

Michael Jordan's will to win was a force of nature and that's what, in my view, almost forced Pippen to greatness. I can't imagine Pippen a top-50 player on any other team but Jordan's Bulls. But Jordan would have been a top-10 player all-time with or without Pippen. He was arguably the best player in the league before Pippen even joined the Bulls.

Pippen's officially acknowledged as a top-50/top-76 player, but Jordan is arguably the GOAT, indisputably a top-5 all-time player.

Pippen was relatively weak mentally and he was a great second-best. But he never could have led a team to a championship.

Seems to me like his mental weakness is showing itself with his recent media rounds.

At Monday, November 15, 2021 9:51:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...


Mozart and Salieri were not on the same team. Jordan appears to be focused on considering Pippen a rival over whom he must assert superiority even while superficially praising him. Pippen considers Jordan's approach to their partnership "condescending" and that is not an unreasonable way for Pippen to feel. When the Bulls needed to shut down the opposing team's offense on the biggest stages--such as the 1991 NBA Finals and the 1998 Eastern Conference Finals--Pippen was tasked with picking up Magic Johnson and Mark Jackson full court.

Jordan and Pippen led the Chicago Bulls to six championships, though Jordan sometimes seems to believe--or wants others to believe--that he was a soloist.

Have you read Pippen's book? Not just the excerpts, and not just edited interview clips--have you actually read the book from cover to cover?

Regarding respect, I can assure you that the players who played with and against Pippen have tremendous respect for him. I've spoken with many of them on and off the record. Don't confuse being respected by media members and/or by fans with earning the respect of people who actually know the game.

Further, there is no question that Pippen's teammates like him more than they like Jordan. If Pippen were not highly respected and highly liked, he would not have been able to follow up the most overdramatized 1.8 seconds in history to be an All-NBA caliber performer for three championship teams (on top of being an All-NBA caliber performer for three previous championship teams).

Scottie Pippen went from being a skinny 6-1 point guard in a small Arkansas town to being a first round draft pick before he ever met Jordan, but you believe that Pippen needed Jordan to push him to greatness? That is breathtakingly presumptuous.

I don't question Jordan's greatness at all. Note that he is in my Pantheon, and Pippen is not (I place Pippen one level below, as one of the top 25-30 players of all-time). However, the notion that Pippen would have been nothing without Jordan is unsupported by any evidence, and there is plenty of evidence against that. You can start with the Bulls replacing Jordan at the last minute with Pete Myers and still being a 55 win team with Pippen playing at an MVP level--and please don't answer that Pippen only could do that because he had been trained by Jordan. How good would the Bulls have been if Jordan kept playing but Pippen left and was replaced by Pete Myers? Jordan was 1-9 in the playoffs without Pippen, so that experiment has already been run and we know the results.

The one thing that I think we can agree on is that both players would have won less than six titles if they had not played with each other. I rank them as the best duo of all-time (though old-timers may say Bill Russell plus "choose a Celtic" is the best duo of all-time).

Pippen played in game six of the 1998 NBA Finals with two ruptured disks in his back and you think that he was mentally weak? Pippen was taking charges from Karl Malone with a back that would eventually need surgical repair, and you think that he lacked mental toughness? That speaks for itself, and I will not waste any time trying to convince you how wrong you are about Pippen's mental strength.

At Monday, November 15, 2021 2:12:00 PM, Blogger Jordan said...

Thank you for this article and your response to anonymous. I very much appreciate 20secondtimeout as one of the last bastions of NBA historical perspective, truth, and analysis. It has always been a place that presented the truth regarding Pippen.

One thing I will agree with anonymous on is that Pippen is in serious need of a couple of things -- a PR team and perhaps a therapist. Anonymous is right. The way Pippen has conducted himself the past several months shows worrying signs of a man spiraling down regarding mental health. He recently went through a bad divorce (with high profile cheating, the rapper Future and Malik Beasley) as well as the unwarranted backlash from the Last Dance.

He has done interviews pushing his bourbon, and acted like he was intoxicated. In his other interviews, he comes across as jealous and defensive. As a human, I empathize with his response, but most people don't care about trying to relate. They just see a whining millionaire crying about not getting respect seemingly arguing against the greatness of the perceived greatest of all time.

The most tragic aspect of all of this, is the narrative from the media and from casual fans alike, that has mislabeled and propagated this idea of Pippen for the last quarter century. It is an Atlas-sized burden to overcome -- and one he has proven ill-equipped to deal with on his own. His method of speaking his mind regardless of the fallout -- is both a strength and his greatest weakness.

He could have gone about this book tour in a very different light -- focusing it all entirely on himself -- pitching his life story much the same way that you have here (and Pippen does, apparently, in his book). Doing so shifts the narrative away from Jordan all together and focuses on the greatness of Pippen.

But then he probably wouldn't have sold as many books as again, that atlas-sized burden means the general population doesn't really care about knowing Pippen's greatness. A media tour focusing on pushing back on the Michael Jordan narrative, certainly is sexier and something the media and casual fans have eaten up.

But, selling more books, means continuing the false narrative. Which is why there is so much backlash against Pippen.

At Monday, November 15, 2021 2:57:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...


I am not a licensed therapist, so I will not offer an opinion about Pippen's mental health--and my understanding is that even a licensed therapist cannot properly offer such an opinion without actually speaking directly to the subject (and then confidentiality rules would limit what the licensed therapist could publicly say).

Perhaps Pippen and/or his team could employ a different PR strategy, but the larger issues here--which I addressed in my article and thus will not repeat here in the comments section--go well beyond this book and the promotional tour for this book.

Have you seen or heard the hour long Town Hall with Pippen and Frank Isola? Isola is a much better interviewer than anyone else who has interviewed Pippen regarding Pippen's book (admittedly, a low hurdle to cross when the "competition" includes Michael Strahan and some random dude from GQ); Dan Patrick is not a bad interviewer, but his interview with Pippen--which happened when the book was not in final draft form--may not have been a career highlight for Patrick or Pippen.

That Town Hall reflects the tone of the book--I am willing to bet that most of the people who are criticizing Pippen are speaking about a book that they have not read--and provides a wonderful glimpse into Pippen's perspective about basketball.

The worst thing that happened to Pippen recently is not all of the gossip about his ex-wife--which is not the kind of stuff that I cover here--but rather the death of his son, but I see no evidence that his personal challenges negatively impacted his telling of his life story.

There is a long list of athletes who are pushing alcohol, gambling, and other activities that used to be listed as "vices," and Michael Jordan is on that list. Pippen's commercial endeavors are irrelevant to this article.

How Pippen comes across in an interview can be affected by the questions asked and by the editing process. I would encourage you and anyone who reads this article to read the entire book and to listen to/watch the Town Hall. If anyone finds specific examples of unjustified negativity in the book or in the Town Hall I would be interested to discuss those examples.

I am not a marketer. I don't know if marketing the book the way it has been marketed increased sales, decreased sales, or had no impact. I would assume that an autobiography by one of the NBA's 50 Greatest Players is going to sell X amount of copies regardless of marketing. I am less interested in the marketing and more interested in the actual content.

That being said, it is fascinating to observe how deeply ingrained the simple mass media narratives become; so many people have become so attached to the Jordan iconography that anything that is perceived or depicted as threatening to that iconography is attacked. Pippen's message about the Chicago Bulls is that they won six championships as a team, not as a result of one person's solo efforts. Pippen insists that he and Jordan brought out the best in each other. It is interesting that Pippen's message is so offensive to people who have only positive reactions to Michael Jordan's 10 part video homage to his greatness.

The ultimate success of any propaganda is when the consumers do not even realize that they have not only consumed propaganda but they are now reciting that propaganda as if it is a truth that they independently discovered. This is an issue that extends far beyond Jordan, Pippen, and the sports/entertainment world.

At Monday, November 15, 2021 9:33:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Since when is being "liked more" a worthwhile criterion for championship level basketball? Pippen was probably more likeable, but Jordan was way more reliable. He never suffered a migraine deep into the playoffs and he never willfully kept himself out of crunch time in the same, i.e. "1.8 seconds". These are two examples of Pippen being unreliable in the crunch. Seems like you're minimizing their importance, but these are moments of truth in my view. Pippen has lately described Jordan as "selfish". But I can't think of anything more selfish than refusing to enter the final seconds of a game because coach didn't draw up the final play for you. That suggests a sense of entitlement, especially since Kukocs was clearly the better shooter. Pippen was the much better player, of course. But again, unreliable, if "likeable".

At Monday, November 15, 2021 10:36:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...


Since when did I say that "liked more" is a worthwhile criterion for championship level basketball? You cannot find that statement or assertion by me in this article, in the comment section, or in anything else that I have written.

The first Anonymous who commented in this thread (not sure if you are the same person or not) argued that Pippen does not "COMMAND" respect but rather "DEMANDS" respect. I countered--based on interviews that I have done with people who played with and against Pippen and people who coached Pippen and coached against Pippen--that Pippen indeed commands respect, at least among people who understand the game. It is also true that Pippen is more liked by teammates than Jordan. My point, in response to Anonymous' unfounded assertions, is that Pippen is not only respected but he is also liked. That is not my "criterion" for championship level basketball, but rather my refutation of the first Anonymous' comment in this thread. I disagree with the notion that Pippen is saying or writing things that undermine the respect he commands, and I see no evidence his autobiography will change his likeability among people who actually know him.

Regarding your unfounded assertions about Pippen's reliability, Pippen was an All-NBA caliber performer for six NBA championship teams. Chuck Daly suggested that Pippen was perhaps the most valuable all-around player on the first (and only) Dream Team. Pippen led the Bulls to a 6-4 playoff record in his one full season without Jordan; in contrast, Jordan's teams won one playoff game in the five seasons that he played without Pippen. Yet, you think that Pippen's career is defined by one playoff game prior to winning six titles, and another playoff game after he won his first three titles?

Do you define Magic Johnson by his performance in the 1984 NBA Finals when he dribbled out the clock in a tied game that his team lost? Do you define LeBron James by his soft performance throughout the 2011 NBA Finals, during which he choked not in one game or one moment but throughout an entire series when he was supported by two HoFers in their primes while playing against a team that had one HoFer in his prime? By the way, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar had a migraine game in the playoffs, too, and Terrell Davis had a migraine in the Super Bowl.

Why do you not define Pippen by playing game six of the 1998 NBA Finals with two ruptured disks in his back? Are you more impressed by Michael Jordan's "flu game"? Do you think that it is more difficult to play basketball when you are a little under the weather or when you have a back injury that needs surgical repair?

At Tuesday, November 16, 2021 8:23:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Given their overall career accomplishments, is it fair that Scottie Pippen made $109M in his career, but Michael Jordan only made $93M? Just in terms of NBA earnings, who really got short-shrifted here? Even if we make slight adjustments for inflation, clearly it was Jordan, if anybody, who was criminally underpaid during his career.

Obviously, Jordan has gotten his just desserts from the free market, hence his approximate $2B net worth. But Pippen got his just desserts too - over $100M made, acknowledged top-50/top-75 player, and Hall of Fame. Nor did anyone ever dispute that Pippen was the second-best player on one of the best sports dynasties ever, or that Pippen was a great player in his own right.

That said, we have to acknowledge the difference of scale between athletic GENIUS from a Jordan or a Gretzky or an Ali, and GREATNESS a la Drexler or Mark Messier or Frazier. I think that the former are qualitatively different from the latter.

Moreover, although I haven't yet read "Unguarded" yet, I have no doubt that it's a riveting rags-to-riches story about a poor boy made good in the world. (I mean that sincerely) I do plan on reading it. But seems to me like Pippen should stick to telling his story instead of going on about how his former teammate Jordan "ruined basketball" and such-like.

Bottom line: Scottie Pippen, objectively, has "won in life". No doubt. And he's a winner in that no one not named Jordan did more to win those six NBA championships for Chicago. But the now 56-year old Pippen seems crabbed and narrow in outlook, in a word, petty, with all his late complaints. (Same "Anonymous" from previous two posts)

At Tuesday, November 16, 2021 9:33:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...


Pippen played 17 full seasons, while Jordan played 15 seasons (including both his injury-shortened 1986 season and his comeback near the end of the 1995 season). When Jordan came back with the Wizards he accepted a low salary because his main goal was to generate excitement and increase the value of the team (he expected to resume being a Wizards' owner after he retired, but that did not happen). Based purely on years of service, and accepting the premise that both Jordan and Pippen should be considered "max" players, I would call it "fair" that they ended up with comparable per year salaries over the course of their careers. Also, Jordan's off-court earnings always far outpaced Pippen's, in part because of the aura and mystique built up around and about Jordan.

Based on value generated for the team and the league, one could argue that both Jordan and Pippen were underpaid. It is also worth noting that in their respective primes Jordan made over $30 million per year while Pippen made around $2 million per year. Pippen caught up with Jordan from an NBA career salary standpoint because Pippen played long enough to be part of the early wave of big money that enabled the next generation of superstars to make several hundreds of millions of dollars in salary during their careers. Is it "fair" that Kevin Garnett made more than four times as much as Jordan did? Anyway, sports salaries tend to not be "fair." Is it "fair" that current bench players make more per game than some Pantheon members made in their entire careers?

Pippen's book does "stick to telling his story." His story rightly includes his perspective on the Bulls' team dynamics. In contrast, "The Last Dance" documentary was, in theory, the story of a team's final season together but in many ways it was more about glorifying Jordan than focusing on the team. It is interesting that after "The Last Dance" was released several Bulls commented publicly that Pippen was not portrayed fairly, but I have yet to hear of any Bulls contradicting anything that Pippen wrote in his book.

I don't consider Pippen to be a "complainer." It is a fact that coaches never had to convince Pippen that basketball is a team game. It is a fact that coaches had to convince Jordan to involve his teammates. It is a fact that Pippen led the Bulls to 55 wins and the second round of the playoffs without Jordan. It is a fact that Jordan never came close to matching that team success in the NBA during five seasons without Pippen.

Jordan was superior to Pippen as a shooter/scorer, but a good argument could be made that Pippen was equal or superior to Jordan in every other significant skill set category, including defense, rebounding, passing, and ballhandling. Of course, shooting/scoring are very important. Jordan's ability to be a finisher at the end of games is significant--but, without Pippen, Jordan may have never played in a meaningful NBA game that was close enough at the end for his finishing skills to matter. Jordan could finish big playoff games in no small part because of what Pippen (and their teammates) did in the first portions of those games.

At Tuesday, November 16, 2021 10:21:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

For the record, I haven't watched "The Last Dance" nor am I really interested in it because it's impossible for me to take it seriously. It's not a real documentary, given Jordan's control of the end product. Kind of like how I don't read "authorized" biographies as a rule. Because of course an authorized biography is going to paint its subject in the best possible light, hagiography with maybe a couple of warts here and there.

I remember reading Sam Smith's "The Jordan Rules" when it first came out and I was bemused because my admiration for Jordan only grew after having read it, but Jordan himself did all he could to "freeze out" Sam Smith even though, as I recall, Jordan hadn't actually read the book.

Jordan exposed himself as petty and somewhat thin-skinned in his reaction to Smith's book. More recently, I think that Jordan should have allowed ESPN to edit its 50 hours of footage without his input or creative control. Ideally, Ken Burns or some other great documentary filmmaker would have been commissioned to produce something authentic, maybe even a classic.

All this is to say that anybody going into "The Last Dance," knowing that Jordan had ultimate control of it, should have watched it with a proverbial asterisk in mind. It was one year in the life of Michael Jordan disguised as a "documentary" of the 97-98 Bulls. In short, it's not a real documentary.

I mean, of course Jordan is going to make it about Jordan. Shame on ESPN for letting him get away with that. Shame on ESPN and any pretenses to "journalistic integrity" that it might have, for allowing Jordan final say in a so-called "documentary".

All this by way of explaining why I haven't actually watched "The Last Dance" and why I'm not really interested in it.

It was successful from a marketing standpoint, but it was bogus because not a real documentary. Wasted opportunity in my opinion.

But, again, I do plan on reading Pippen's autobiography. I am genuinely interested in his point of view. I just wish he came off as less envious of Jordan than he does.

One other point. I think that you somewhat downplay the importance of scoring. When we come down to it, the object of the game is to score more points than your opponent. This is why, ceteris paribus, the great scorer is prized above all. Jordan was the greatest scorer of his era, the greatest scoring non-center in NBA history. Accepting your argument that Pippen was Jordan's equal in all the other major statistical categories, and that he was his equal on the defensive side, Jordan's scoring supremacy makes him vastly the superior player to Pippen.

At Tuesday, November 16, 2021 12:12:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...


I agree that "The Last Dance" is not an objective documentary, but I watched it and found it interesting.

ESPN long ago gave up any pretense of "journalistic integrity." Their lead NBA commentator is "Screamin' A" Smith. Nothing else needs to be said about ESPN's "journalistic integrity" (though much more could be said).

I am not downplaying the significance of scoring. The significance of scoring is the main reason that Jordan is in my Pantheon and Pippen is not. However, Pippen is one of the few players in NBA history who is Jordan's equal (or even superior) in all other skill set categories, which indicates Pippen's value. Pippen was an essential member of each championship team. "The Last Dance" did not clearly communicate that truth, and I understand why that bothers Pippen. "The Last Dance" also minimized the contributions of other important Bulls' players, most notably Horace Grant and Ron Harper.

It is fascinating to see the "click bait" headlines on social media and on other outlets that grab one quote out of context and then try to demean Pippen or just create controversy.

At Wednesday, November 17, 2021 10:02:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Also, I think that you're exaggerating the significance of that 93-94 season in terms of Pippen's legacy. In those Eastern Conference Semifinals against the Knicks, Pippen averaged 3 points on 20% shooting in the 4th quarter. The other marquee name in that series, Ewing, averaged 10 points in the 4th quarter. There we saw Pippen crumble in crunch time. Years later he'd preside over a Blazers team that blew a 15-point lead over the Lakers in Game 7 of the 2001 Western Conference Finals. I think that then-NBC announcer Bill WAlton was more or less accurate when he described Pippen as "the greatest role player in the history of the NBA".

Back to that 93-94 Bulls team. They were very successful during the regular season, indeed they were as successful as the 92-93 team the year before with Jordan. But that team won the championship with Jordan averaging 41 points per game in the Finals. Whereas the playoffs exposed how limited that 93-94 team really was. As you and I both know, playoff basketball is totally different from regular-season basketball.

The 93-94 Bulls were a very good team and they had a balanced attack and were well-coached, so it's no surprise that they won 55 or 57 games. But let's not pretend like Hugh Hollins is the reason why they didn't win a title.

Moreover, the 94-95 Bulls were a barely .500 team when Jordan announced "I'm back." The Bulls were exposed as an above-average to mediocre team during that interim without Jordan. They had Robin, but Robins don't lead teams to championships. Batmans do.

At Wednesday, November 17, 2021 10:41:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

David, you might be right about Pippen's skill set relative to Jordan's, but this is one reason why we(you, most specifically) shouldn't get carried away with skill sets. Jordan is vastly overrated and Pippen probably a little underrated, but Jordan was considerably better than Pippen.

Pippen was the perfect #2 as he clearly couldn't carry a team as the #1, and accepted his #2 role. Yes, CHI still won 55 games in 1994, but then dropped to 47 games in 1995 even with Jordan playing 17 games; while losing in the 2nd round each year. What we're seeing is more about how Jordan isn't quite as good as we thought than Pippen better than we thought. If Pippen was better than in 94 or 95 compared to 93, it was marginally and mostly due to the fact he had a bigger role. There's guys that are better #1 guys than Pippen but wouldn't be as good of #2 guys as Pippen. Pippen's nature and game is geared towards that supporting role type player.

Let's look at Pippen as an individual. He only made 7 AS teams; that's not good for anyone in the top 25-30 all-time as you claim. I seriously doubt anyone else in your top 25-30 has fewer AS appearances than 7. He only made top 5 in MVP voting 2x; neither time close to winning. All-NBA teams 7x, but just 1st team 3x. Top 25-30 is pretty generous considering everything.

Also saying Jordan would never have played a meaningful game without Pippen and his teammates is kinda pointless. Every star player needs his #2 and role players do the same exact thing; Jordan or Pippen weren't anymore different than any other players with these roles.

At Wednesday, November 17, 2021 11:43:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...


How many "Robins" have finished third in regular season MVP voting, as Pippen did in 1994? How many "Robins" have led their teams in scoring, rebounding, assists, steals, and blocked shots in the same season, as Pippen did in 1995?

A player's impact/legacy is properly measured by a lot more than his fourth quarter scoring average in one playoff series.

Pippen was Portland's leader in the 2000 WCF (not 2001 WCF) but he was also an aging player less than two years removed from major back surgery. Even in his prime, his role was not to be a dominant fourth quarter scorer, and that certainly was not his role on that Portland team.

Walton can be insightful but he is also prone to hyperbole, so I am not putting much weight on your recollection of one out of context quip from Walton.

That 1994 Bulls team was more successful in the playoffs than any Michael Jordan team without Scottie Pippen on the roster. The home team won every game in the Chicago-New York series, and the closest that a road team came to a breakthrough was the pivotal game five, which concluded with a call so bad that Hollins' partner publicly admitted that the call was terrible. How often does another referee break the omerta code and admit that a fellow ref blew it? Hollins had a long, sorry history with the Bulls, and he later played a role in the Bulls winning 72 games instead of 73.

It is interesting that you chose to leave out the fact that the 1995 Bulls lost Horace Grant to Orlando in free agency, that Bill Cartwright signed with Seattle, and that John Paxson retired after 1994. Yes, the Bulls started slowly in 1994-95, but they won 8 out of their last 10 prior to Jordan's fabled return. With Jordan in 1995, the Bulls lost in six games in the second round after making it to the seventh game in the second round the year before. Here are the pertinent facts, as discussed in Scottie Pippen's Place in Basketball History :

"In the February 2002 issue of Basketball Digest, my 'Digits' column titled 'Pro Basketball's Five-Tool Players' looked at the only three players in NBA/ABA history who ever led their teams in scoring, rebounding, assists, steals and blocked shots in the same season--Julius Erving (1975-76 New York Nets), Dave Cowens (1977-78 Boston Celtics) and Scottie Pippen (1994-95 Chicago Bulls); Kevin Garnett joined this exclusive club in 2002-03. Here is an excerpt from that article:

"The Bulls were not considered to be contenders after Jordan's shocking retirement announcement before the start of the 1993-94 season. Their 4-7 record out of the gate seemed to confirm this notion, but Pippen missed several of those games due to the lingering effects of offseason ankle surgery. When Pippen returned to the lineup the Bulls immediately became one of the top teams in the league, finishing the year 55-27, only two games worse than the season before. Pippen won the All-Star Game MVP, finished third in regular season MVP balloting and fourth in Defensive Player of the Year voting and made the All-NBA and All-Defensive First Teams. Foreshadowing his 'five-tool' effort in 1994-95, during the playoffs Pippen led the Bulls in scoring, rebounding, assists, steals and three pointers made while finishing third on the team in blocked shots.

In 1994-95 Horace Grant left the Bulls for the Orlando Magic, John Paxson retired and Bill Cartwright signed with the Seattle SuperSonics. Starting center Luc Longley missed the first 22 games of the season with a stress fracture in his left leg, during which time the Bulls went 11-11."

At Wednesday, November 17, 2021 4:09:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

wow, the commenters here only prove the point. "The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function."

(1) MJ was the best player on 6 Bulls championship teams -- and was arguably the greatest player of all time and definitely on a short list in that conversation.
(2) Without contributions of others -- Pippen (and Phil, Grant/Rodman, etc.) -- MJ wouldn't have won 6 rings or gone undefeated in the Finals. His pre-Pippen record is proof positive that he needed help to reach team-level success.

most commenters cannot accept (2), because they see it as too far opposed to (1).


At Wednesday, November 17, 2021 4:37:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...


Yes, and your observation is on point not only regarding comments about this post but in a larger sense: people become so attached to a particular narrative that they are violently opposed to accepting any information that even appears to contradict that narrative.

At Wednesday, November 17, 2021 5:06:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...


I evaluate basketball players based much more on skill set and impact than on awards. There are several players who won regular season MVPs who I would not take over Pippen. MVP voting has often been ridiculous, particularly in the past 20 years or so. In 1991, Pippen was without question one of the 10 best players in the NBA; he led the Bulls in assists and blocked shots while ranking second in scoring, rebounding, steals as the Bulls rolled to the title, yet he did not even make the All-Star team, let alone the All-NBA Team. A year later, he was deservedly selected to the Dream Team. I will rely on skill set evaluation over awards.

What is your evidence that Pippen "clearly couldn't carry a team as the #1"? We have five seasons of evidence that Jordan could not win as the number one without Pippen as his number two. Pippen led the Bulls to the second round as the number one without Jordan. Pippen was the leader--but not the best player at that stage of his career--on a Portland team that pushed the Lakers to game seven in 2000. That Lakers team did not lose a playoff series until 2003.

Pippen played in the seventh game of the 1994 Eastern Conference semis without Jordan, and he played in the seventh game of the 2000 Western Conference Finals without Jordan. If people want to keep taking unwarranted shots at Pippen, his life story, and his book, then it is certainly fair to point out that after his UNC days Jordan did not play in a meaningful playoff game without Pippen by his side running the offense, guarding the other team's most important perimeter player, and encouraging teammates who Jordan constantly berated.

I prefer facts and evidence to narratives, nonsense, and unfounded speculation.

At Thursday, November 18, 2021 9:38:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I don't think that my view that Pippen seems overrated should bring into question my mental ability to "hold two opposed ideas in mind at the same time" as J put it. I mean, we're talking basketball here, not quantum physics or Shakespearean tragedy. Anyway, David, I think that our disagreement comes down to the question of scale.

You acknowledge that Jordan was a better player than Pippen, hence he's in your "Pantheon" but Pippen is not. But you seem to see Jordan's superiority to Pippen as a matter of degree. That Jordan was a better scorer, but in all other aspects of the game Pippen was more or less Jordan's equal. Therefore, in your mind, they were peers, just Jordan was a better peer.

I don't think that they were peers at all. I think that Jordan and Pippen are incommensurate. That players in the "Pantheon" such as Jordan or Lebron are different in kind from second-tier great players like Pippen or Bosh.

This has been a fun debate and, for the record, you're one of my favorite basketball commentators, David. I really enjoy your posts and indeed I was eagerly awaiting to see what you had to say about this Pippen/Jordan thing. You didn't disappoint. For what it's worth, deeply respect your opinion, but deeply disagree.

At Thursday, November 18, 2021 10:47:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

MVP voting isn't the best sometimes, but they're still picking the best or 2nd best player in the league for that season every time except for Nash. And the top guys getting votes almost always deserve to be at the top. There's always exceptions here and there. Pippen may have deserved AS in 1991 but 18,7,6 isn't great. But ok, let's count that for 8 AS appearances, that's still not someone I'd even consider for top 25 status, especially given that his peak years were never super strong. Who else in the top 25 was never seriously considered for even 1 MVP?

I already stated my evidence. Including Jordan's rookie season, 2nd year where he only played 18 games, and his 2 'old man' seasons as 4 seasons of evidence isn't a very good argument. This evidence shows that Jordan, just like any other player, needs help to win, not that Pippen was helping so much. Eventually, Pippen did help more but not for awhile. He only averaged 8,4,2 in 21 minutes in 1988, and had an abysmal 1989 ECF. CHI greatly improved once Jordan joined the team. Obviously more pieces continued to be added and they eventually won the title in 1991. Pippen became an all-league player for several seasons, yes.

No speculation, just lots of facts. Maybe it does for you, but 2nd round in 1994 doesn't do much for me especially with Phil, 2 other AS teammates, and a good cast. This isn't about taking shots at Pippen, it's about getting correct analysis. And he was only the 4th or 5th best player in the 2000 WCF series. He was several years removed from being an AS-caliber player then.

At Thursday, November 18, 2021 11:51:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...


I am not saying that Pippen was "more or less Jordan's equal." I am saying that Pippen is one of the few players who could match or even exceed Jordan in other skill set areas. Most non-Pantheon players are outclassed by Jordan in multiple skill set areas.

I would take Jordan over Pippen because Jordan's superiority as a scorer is highly significant, but I also would say that prime Pippen was capable of being the best player on a championship team. The gap between Jordan and Pippen is not as great as you are suggesting.

At Thursday, November 18, 2021 4:26:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...


Since you assert that MVP voting tends to identify the top players, note that Pippen finished in the top five in MVP voting twice, and he should have been top five in 1995. The 1995 voting was bizarre--but that has often been the case in the past 25 years or so. Pippen finished seventh, but Jordan finished 11th despite playing just 17 games. In 1996, Pippen justifiably returned to the top five.

What do I mean by bizarre?

In 1997, Jordan finished second behind Karl Malone because of what has been called "voter fatigue." That season, Tim Hardaway--who was a very good player, but who did not play much defense and shot .415 from the field that year--finished fourth. Glen Rice and Anthony Mason also finished ahead of Pippen, who played all 82 games as the second best player on the defending champion that would ultimately win the title again that season and the next season. Pippen finished 11th in MVP voting.

In 1998, Pippen missed 38 games but improved to 10th in the MVP voting; the voters may have noticed that the Bulls were 36-8 when Pippen played but 26-12 when he didn't play: over the course of 82 games, that is the difference between being 67-15 and being 56-26. Remember that the Bulls declined by just two games after Jordan's first retirement (and the Bulls went 4-6 that season in games that Pippen missed, so if Pippen had played all 82 then the Bulls probably would have improved sans Jordan).

Why would you exclude Jordan's rookie season and "old man" seasons but not give similar consideration to Pippen regarding his rookie season and his "old man" seasons? This is one example of what I mean when I say that people become attached to cherished narratives as opposed to looking at the evidence.

I doubt that anyone has studied the Bulls circa 1985-1998 more than I have; if you want to delve into every contextual factor that can be weighed and considered, I am more prepared to do that than anyone, but I can assure you that at the end of the day your perspective about Pippen's value is not supported by the evidence (I have no intention of actually diving into all of that data in this comments section, but feel free to read the articles that I previously posted about Jordan, Pippen, and the Bulls to get a sense of what the evidence shows).

You say that 18-7-6 is "not that great," but in 1991 the only players who matched each of those criteria are Bird, Magic, and Pippen. Bird played 60 games that season and could not guard a traffic cone by that stage of his career but he finished tied for 9th in MVP voting. Magic finished second in MVP voting. Pippen did not receive a single MVP vote. Who looked more valuable during the playoffs--and head to head in the Finals, Magic or Pippen? Didn't you say that the playoffs are different than the regular season?

When I rank Pippen and other players, I am not putting too much value on the opinion of media members who ranked '97 Hardaway and '91 Bird ahead of Pippen during those seasons.

The facts that you choose to cite and find persuasive are different from the facts that are most relevant to evaluating Pippen's value/impact, and the value/impact of players in general.

At Wednesday, November 24, 2021 11:37:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

In reading the book, it's actually less controversial than the press makes it out to be. Sure Pippen has an ax to grind but he also praises Jordan and gives credit where credit is due.

I think the biggest surprise is that they weren't that close, for being so symbiotic on the court. But a lot of the content is not really new.

The 1.8 seconds is overdone. Everyone has a brain fart once in a while. Sure it was the most "un-team" thing to do but they came back and three-peated.

At Thursday, November 25, 2021 1:33:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...


The press has significantly distorted the content, context, and tone of Pippen's words.

At Friday, January 21, 2022 4:04:00 PM, Blogger Simone said...

Really good article, congrats! Just like others here.. I think that Scottie is 1 of the 3 most underrated (star) players ever (w The Rajah and Hondo). Pippen pay the sovrannaturale (..) narrative about MJ: $ not only talk, but move the mountains. Sad little story about manipulation: when they compare Pip to Salieri (c'mon, # 33 was at least Schumann..), they never know that "Amadeus" - the movie - is a fiction. A lot of facts of that film are invented. Peace! Simone (from Italy) www.sport-e-cultura.com/2020/04/03/scottie-pippen-colui-che-abitava-il-futuro-anteriore-del-gioco/

At Friday, January 21, 2022 10:06:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...


Welcome to 20 Second Timeout and thank you for your comment. I would be interested in reading the article that you linked to, but I am not fluent in Italian.


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