Is Scottie Pippen’s image justifiably taking a hit in ‘The Last Dance’?
We knew Dennis Rodman liked to party and grab rebounds.
We knew Michael Jordan was a maniacal competitor, obsessed with winning and gambling.
But no player has had more light shed on their career and their persona in The Last Dance than Scottie Pippen.
Pippen is one of the game’s greats who was often overshadowed by the game’s greatest.
He won six championships in Chicago alongside Michael Jordan. He was a 7-time All-Star and won the All-Star Game MVP the year after Jordan’s first retirement. He was a 3-time All-NBA First Team selection and 8-time NBA All-Defensive First Team selection. He won Olympic gold medals in 1992 – as a member of the Dream Team – and in 1996.
However, The Last Dance isn’t reminding us as much of Pippen’s incredible on-court career as it is his struggles with the Bulls organization.
It started in Episode 2, when we learned more about Pippen postponing an offseason surgery because he was upset with his contract, causing him to miss almost half of the 1997-98 season.
Remember this infamous quote?
“I’m not going to f*ck my summer up.” -Scottie Pippen with a whole vibe right there.
— Cassidy Hubbarth (@CassidyHubbarth) April 20, 2020
And then, this past weekend in Episode 7, the docuseries touched on the most infamous moment of Pippen’s career, when he refused to leave the bench in the final moments of Game 3 of the 1994 Eastern Conference Semifinals.
While Jordan was off playing baseball, Pippen had a breakout year in 1993-94, filling the role of Chicago’s superstar leader.
Scottie Pippen first season without MJ:
— StatMuse (@statmuse) May 11, 2020
Pippen carried the Bulls to a 55-win regular season and a second round playoff matchup with the New York Knicks.
With the Bulls trailing the Knicks 2-0 in the series, the score was tied with 1.8 seconds left on the clock in Game 3. Bulls coach Phil Jackson called a play for then-rookie Toni Kukoc, much to the chagrin of Pippen, who refused to enter the game for the final play.
Scottie Pippen on Phil Jackson drawing up final play for Toni Kukoc vs Knicks in Game 3 of 1994 East semifinals: "I felt like it was an insult coming from Phil. I was the most dangerous guy on our team. So why are you asking me to take the ball out?"
— Mark Medina (@MarkG_Medina) May 11, 2020
Kukoc would go on to make the game-winning jumpshot.
Toni Kukoc hits the game winner after Scottie Pippen refused to enter the game.
— Ballislife.com (@Ballislife) May 11, 2020
Despite the Bulls emerging with the win, the damage was done. Pippen’s teammates were disappointed with his decision and what ensued was an emotional moment in the Chicago locker room.
In Episode 7, Pippen said that even in retrospect, he wouldn’t have changed his decision.
After all these years, Pippen doubling down on his decision to quit on the team was the most baffling moment from last night. pic.twitter.com/UTW8ls4wO3
— Chris Spatola (@Chris_Spatola) May 11, 2020
Former Bulls point guard B.J. Armstrong elaborated on the incident.
“I understand where [Scottie] was coming from … I can only imagine what that felt like.”
Scottie Pippen was none-to-pleased with a final play in a crucial situation going to Toni Kukoc. @bjarmstrong tells @mackenziesalmon what he remembers most about that moment from Game 3 of the 1994 Eastern Conference semifinals against the Knicks. pic.twitter.com/ZCZVKbMais
— USA TODAY Sports (@usatodaysports) May 12, 2020
But some who relived the moment via The Last Dance were not so understanding, including Stephen A. Smith, who thinks Pippen is not being portrayed in a positive light in the docuseries.
“In Episode 2, we see Scottie Pippen admitting that he delayed his surgery … because his attitude is he was being underpaid by the Bulls … Then, in 1994, you refuse to check into a game when Phil calls the last play for Toni Kukoc … I don’t think he looks good in this docuseries at all.”
— First Take (@FirstTake) May 11, 2020
While lauding Pippen as a player, Doug Gottlieb believes that Scottie’s contract dispute, his putting off surgery before the 1997-98 season and his refusal to check into a playoff game all point to one thing: Scottie was a selfish teammate.
“These things can be true: Scottie Pippen can be an incredibly unselfish basketball player. Great alongside Michael Jordan. But he can be a very, very selfish teammate … Scottie didn’t have any major flaws as a player … Why wouldn’t they give him a long-term deal? Game 7 against the [Detroit] Pistons – has a migraine. Win a couple titles and Jordan goes away – takes himself out of the deciding part of a playoff game. And then, doesn’t get surgery until right before the [1997-98] season … Would you get into business long-term with a guy like that?”
"People were sympathetic towards Scottie Pippen at the beginning of 'The Last Dance.' NOW they're like: Scottie was selfish, kind of a jerk, and a prima-donna…People want to ask why Jerry Krause or Jerry Reinsdorf didn't pay Scottie, there's your answer."
— FOX Sports Radio (@FoxSportsRadio) May 11, 2020
However, there are those that think Pippen is getting a raw deal in The Last Dance.
Michael Wilbon used to cover the Bulls during his days as a reporter and said Sunday that he feels bad for the coverage of Pippen’s mistakes then and even moreso now.
“1.8 seconds is a bad moment in time, but he had so many great moments. I’ve apologized to Scottie. I was one of those people writing columns at the time and I went to far … He is not to be judged by only that when there are so many spectacular moments by which to judge him.”
Jackie MacMullan piggybacked on Wilbon’s point, commenting that The Last Dance hasn’t done Pippen justice in highlighting his greatness as a player.
“I just don’t know what people expect from Scottie Pippen … He immediately, after the game, knew he made a mistake. In tears, in the locker room, apologized to his teammates … He was one of the five greatest players in the league at that time … and yet, we’re not seeing enough of that in this documentary.”
In Pippen’s defense, the most famous play of his career happened the very next game and it was barely mentioned on Sunday.
The throwdown. The look down. The taunting of Spike Lee.
This Scottie Pippen dunk over Patrick Ewing had it all. pic.twitter.com/J6yhKfc2g4
— NBA on ESPN (@ESPNNBA) May 9, 2020
And Scottie’s former teammates, like Armstrong, are to this day coming to his defense as a player and teammate.
— ESPN (@espn) May 7, 2020
And there you have it – even Jordan’s teammates are compared to LeBron.