If you want to understand how truly great of a basketball player Scottie Pippen was, all you have to do is focus your attention on one person.
And while his name wasn’t mentioned on Sunday night, his presence was there. Episodes 7 and 8 of ESPN’s “The Last Dance” focused on who Jordan was as a teammate, but more importantly, the time in which he stepped away from the game to play baseball. That part of his life has been well documented over the years, as it’s still fascinating that Jordan turned himself into a Double-A baseball player that hit .202 after giving up the game at age 17.
But, while Jordan was riding minor league buses, Pippen was proving to the world that he could also carry a team.
In earlier episodes of the documentary, Pippen’s story was explored as we learned of his upbringing, college career, his trials and tribulations against the Detroit Pistons, and his contract dispute with then-Bulls general manager Jerry Krause.
However, it wasn’t until Sunday that the documentary focused on Pippen’s greatness. Named as one of the 50 greatest players of all time, Pippen is still a player that has his place in history questioned. Which is why the 1993-94 season is proof that should never happen. The Bulls went 57-25 during the regular season in 1992-93 before winning their third consecutive championship with Jordan. The following year it was Pippen that kept Chicago afloat as he led the Bulls to a 55-27 record.
And do you know who the man that replaced Jordan in the starting lineup was?
During that season, Myers started 81 of 82 regular-season games, while averaging 7.9 points in 24.8 minutes a night. It was a 24.7-point reduction at the shooting guard spot. And while Pippen’s averages of 18.6 points, 7.7 rebounds, and 6.3 assists only jumped to 22 points and 8.7 rebounds without Jordan, the team was still able to thrive with him as their leader, especially given that he had a much softer touch than Jordan, leading to the Bulls sharing the ball more that season. The outcome gave Horace Grant and B.J. Armstrong their first and only All-Star game selections, with Armstrong joining Pippen as a starter. Pippen took home MVP of the All-Star Game that season, and came in third place for the regular-season award behind Hakeem Olajuwon and David Robinson.
But while Pippen was given a chance to shine on Sunday night, it also took us back to the lowest moment in his career. With 1.8 seconds remaining in Game 3 of the 1994 Eastern Conference semifinals, Pippen refused to go into a tie game with the Bulls down 0-2 to the New York Knicks.
“I felt like it was an insult coming from Phil [Jackson]. I was the most dangerous guy on our team, so why was I taking the ball out,” said Pippen about being upset that the last play was being drawn up for Toni Kukoc, and not him.
“He quit on us,” said Steve Kerr.
Kukoc’s turnaround game-winning jumper over Anthony Mason at the buzzer gave the Bulls the victory. Bill Cartwright cried in the locker room as he gave an emotional post-game speech, as did Pippen. He would bounce back with “the dunk” later in the series, but it wasn’t enough as the Knicks won in seven games, on their way to the NBA Finals.
“It’s one of those incidents that I wish had never happened,” Pippen said about the incident in Game 3. “But if I had a chance to do it all over again, I probably wouldn’t change it.”
That moment is a piece of NBA history that Pippen will always have to live with. But, let’s not forget that we were also reminded of another.
Scottie Pippen once led the Chicago Bulls to 61 victories in 1993-1994 when you combine the regular season and playoffs, with a guy named Peter Myers as his starting shooting guard.
And that’s something that Michael Jordan could never do.