Scottie Pippen decided to air out some grievances this past summer. He talked with GQ’s Tyler R. Tynes about the reason he didn’t go in for that last play in Game 3 of the 1994 semi-final series against the New York Knicks, operating as a professional basketball player in an environment where everything revolved around Michael Jordan, and his new bourbon. Pippen went on the Dan Patrick Show a few days later and further discussed some of his comments in the Tynes’ story. Both interviews sent ripples throughout social media and the sports debate shows.
Pippen also talked in both about his forthcoming memoir. Unguarded will be available for purchase on Nov. 9 and an excerpt was released to GQ. It begins with him explaining why he was upset with Jordan about The Last Dance. He explained that the documentary dug into an old wound made by his perception that Jordan got all of the credit for the Chicago Bulls historic 1990s run, and the team’s whole world was centered around him. In fairness Jordan got a statue and Pippen got a sculpture with the jersey in color. Pippen talked about that in depth in those summer interviews, but what he didn’t get at was his issues with former teammate John Paxson.
When The Last Dance aired on ESPN in the Spring of 2020, Jackie MacMullan reported that Pippen was “wounded and disappointed” by his portrayal in it. In Pippen’s book he said that Paxson texted him after that. In the message, Paxson begins with “Michael Reinsdorf [Bulls COO] gave me your number.” He goes on in the message to tell Pippen how great of a player he was and how he felt lucky to be his teammate.
Here’s the first sentence of Pippen describing his relationship with Paxson in the excerpt, “Paxson and I hadn’t gotten along in years.”
The rest of the excerpt is about exactly why he felt wronged by Paxson, who has been an executive with the Bulls since 2003, though he was kicked upstairs to make way for VP of Basketball Operations Arturas Karnisovas in 2020. Pippen finished his career with the Bulls in 2004 and wanted to have some input on the roster, but Paxson didn’t allow him to have any. Then when the Bulls did hire Pippen in 2010, it was a token role with no actual influence on Bulls’ player personnel. In 2014 Pippen thought the Bulls were finally going to take him seriously when they sent him to Duke to scout a game, but he claims that he never received a response after he filed his scouting reports.
The excerpt ends with Pippen and Paxson talking on the phone, and Paxson apologizes for how the Hall of Fame forward was treated. Pippen did not accept the apology and said that Paxson began to cry on the phone.
Bulls fans will surely get some satisfaction reading about Pippen bringing Paxson to tears. He went from a fan favorite guard to 30 years later, one half of a despised duo in Chicago, Gar/Pax. Gar Forman and Paxson ran team personnel as Executive vice president and general manager from 2009-2020. In the beginning it was good when Derrick Rose was healthy, and at the end when Lauri Markkanen was the future of the team and the Bulls hadn’t made the playoffs in four years, “Fire Gar/Pax” signs could be seen regularly in the United Center and was a social media hashtag.
The list of controversies in the Gar/Pax front office can stretch from Guaranteed Rate Field to Wrigley Field. There’s the fight with former coach Vinny Del Negro, the front office leaking that Rose had been medically cleared to play less than a year after tearing an ACL, the ugly way that Tom Thibodeau’s time as coach ended, hiring Jim Boylen to be an NBA coach, and of course Luol Deng’s botched spinal tap.
Of course it was hard to play with Jordan. No human being with the confidence and talent of a professional athlete would want to live in a world that completely revolved around a different human being. Most Bulls fans will never understand that, but they’ll all be here for Pippen and anyone else willing to sooth them by pointing out what Gar/Pax did incorrectly.