Pippen: Chicago Isn’t A Free-Agent Destination

How can the Bulls become a title contender? Why didn’t Michael Jordan speak up for Scottie Pippen in the 1990s? Pippen discusses this and more with Tiki & Tierney

Tiki and Tierney
July 28, 2020 - 5:34 pm
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Scottie Pippen is one of the greatest basketball players in NBA history. Unfortunately, as seen in The Last Dance, he was also one of the most underpaid.

Pippen had a seven-year, $18 million deal with the Chicago Bulls in the 1990s. In 1997-98 – the Bulls’ final championship season – he was the sixth-highest-paid Bull and the 122nd-highest-paid player in the NBA. It was so bad that Pippen demanded a trade.

Which begs the question: Why did Michael Jordan never speak up on Pippen’s behalf? Why did he not go to Jerry Krause and Jerry Reinsdorf and demand that Pippen get more money?

“I think that’s a question that Michael Jordan probably needs to answer, not Scottie Pippen,” Pippen said on Tiki & Tierney. “We had a lot of success, we had a lot of fun, and we were able to win.”

Snuffing out the non-answer answer, Tiki & Tierney asked if Pippen would have even wanted Jordan to speak up for him.

“I don’t know if it would have changed the landscape,” Pippen said. “I don’t know. We were both young, growing. As we look back now, we’re mature. At the time, when you’re in the heat of the moment, I’d speak for myself as well as for him to some degree. You’re not really thinking about that. You’re focusing on your own craft and your own career.”

Nevertheless, Pippen will go down as one of the all-time greats: a seven-time All-Star, a six-time NBA champion, and a two-time Olympic gold medalist, among other accolades.

The Bulls, meanwhile, haven’t been to the Finals since 1998. In fact, they’ve reached the conference finals just once in the two-plus decades since and have missed the playoffs in four of the last five seasons.

What do they have to do to become a championship contender again?

“I believe that you have to do well through the draft,” Pippen said. “I think that the Bulls’ success in the past came through the draft with myself, Michael, Horace Grant. We were the original champions of that city, and most of us came through the draft. I just think they’re going to have to be able to find the right talent through the draft. It doesn’t look like Chicago is a destination for free agents. It’s never been the way that they’ve been built, so I don’t expect that to happen. But I expect them to somehow be able to get something through the draft in the future and be able to maintain those players to get back to a competitive level.”

The game has certainly evolved since Pippen’s heyday. 

“I think the physicality of the game has been knocked back a lot,” he said, “but then again, we’re looking at a different game. We’re looking at a game that is built on relationships, a game that has friendship. When you look at the game 30 years ago, there were no relationships on the basketball court. Playing against the Los Angeles Lakers back in 1991 in the NBA Finals, I didn’t have a relationship with any players on that team. I loved Magic Johnson, but we didn’t have no relationship. I loved and idolized James Worthy, but there was no relationship. We didn’t really say anything to each other after the game. 

“Today’s game, these players know each other,” Pippen continued. “They got their cell phone numbers. They’re on speed dial. So you can’t expect to see the same anger, physicality, and all that stuff that you saw in the game in the ’80s and in the ’70s and the early ’90s. [That] part of the game is gone.”

Brandon Tierney, a diehard Knicks fans, asked Pippen why he always took so much joy in dunking on Patrick Ewing.

“It wasn’t anything personal,” Pippen said. “It’s just my style of play. I played with a lot of tenacity. I attacked the rim, and if you came between me and the rim, then you were setting yourself up for a moment of embarrassment.”

While the physicality in the game has waned, Pippen has enjoyed seeing players’ skillsets evolve. 

“Bigger guys are playing all over the floor,” he said. “The game is now a position-less game. Players are capable of doing things that we haven’t seen in the past. You look at the Denver Nuggets. They’re playing with their 7-footer up [Nikola Jokic] at the top of the floor because of the lack of their guard play right now. A lot of teams are throwing different things at you. . . . It’s good to see multi-dimensional players play multiple positions.”