He’s not wrong.Illustration: Getty Images
Scottie Pippen is still angry about that contract. It didn’t take up much time in “The Last Dance,” which is what the released excerpt in GQ of Pippen’s autobiography entitled “Unguarded” focused on, but it’s been the guiding light for most of Pippen’s life. It filters through the article in the New York Times. It’s what led him to demand a trade off of the team profiled in that documentary while recovering from foot surgery. It’s what led to his eventual trade to the Rockets after that season. It’s pretty much how Pippen has viewed the world ever since.
The contract was bad, of that there is no question. Everyone told him so — his advisers, even the man signing the checks believed it was a mistake — but Pippen wanted that money at that moment, and it was clear and understandable why. He had a huge family that needed help. It’s so far in the past, and since Pippen went on to make a ton more money in Houston and Portland, you’d think it might be water under the bridge.
But hey, if Michael Jordan still gets a pass for having to “win” every aspect of his life, as that doc clearly proved he does, why should Pippen get any less of a pass for still feeling slighted by the Bulls?
Because Pippen feels that he has been, and when you add how that documentary portrayed him and the rest of those Bulls teams to the already instilled contract, you can see why he would.
There were two things I felt the documentary glossed over the most. And it felt like it glossed over them to stay beholden to the image of Jordan, who had editorial control of the doc, as god and savior over what the actual truth was.
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One” the Bulls won 55 games without him. They were a referee-Hue-Hollins masterclass from returning to the Eastern Conference Finals, where at worst they would have been favorites over the Pacers, and probably not just slight ones either. The core of the team — Pippen, Horace Grant, Toni Kukoc — was essentially the same one that Jordan returned to after his brief retirement to play minor league baseball, swapping out Grant for Dennis Rodman (and at that point, Grant was just about the same player Rodman was, if not better). The struggle-bus Jordan returned to the following season that sort of wheezed its way into the playoffs was stripped of Grant with no replacement, as well as losing some frontcourt depth. The team Jordan left behind in his first retirement was pretty good without him.
That’s a narrative I have no doubt Jordan hates in his and his disciples’ quest to keep him on the perch above LeBron James, which is still perhaps the most annoying argument in sports. Every team LeBron leaves a team it ends up in the lottery (with the admitted caveats of other roster changes and circumstances, but they aren’t that heavy).
The second part the documentary fogged over were the last two games of the Finals that 97-98 year. Jordan’s “flu game” gets about 20-30 minutes of screen time. It’s part of the lore, of course. Meanwhile, Pippen was playing through two herniated discs in his back for both Games 5 and 6. Watching him move up and down the court was painful for all of us, so it’s hard to imagine the agony he was in. “The Last Dance” barely mentions it, and Jordan himself just brushes it off as just another obstacle he had to overcome. If you’ve known anyone in your life with a herniated disc, much less two, you know they don’t brush it off.
So you can see why Pippen might just be a little pissed.
Pippen came back to the Bulls, which the excerpt details, perhaps wanting to mend it all. And he basically got screwed again by a petty GM who was out of his depth. It’s assured that all those original feelings from that contract came flooding back.
It would be easy to point out to Pippen how much he has. He’s a Hall-of-Famer, he’s got six rings, was named to the 50 Greatest Players in NBA History, has generational wealth now, a statue of his own at the United Center (one that’s held my beer more times than I can count after I came back in from a smoke break). Most Bulls fans, though not all, know just how important he was to that dynasty. But we don’t live as professional athletes, and the mentality they have to use to put in the work to get to those planes. And again, it seems something Jordan gets criticized for far less. “That’s just MJ.”
Pippen could let it go. He’d probably be happier if he did. But that doesn’t mean his beef isn’t legitimate.