With the NBA Finals in full swing, it’s a great time to go back a quarter of a century, back to 1993, when the Chicago Bulls were in route to wrapping up their first three-peat.
They won NBA titles in 1991, 1992 and 1993, and then again in 1996, 1997 and 1998.
UCA alum Scottie Pippen was of course a big part of why the Bulls won those six titles. Michael Jordan helped a little bit, too.
In writing about Pippen’s prowess, this grew into two columns. I could probably fill several. But, here is the first of a pair.
Most know the story of Pippen. A decent but lightly recruited high schooler from Hamburg, he walked on at UCA in the early 1980’s. It’s even said that UCA coach Don Dyer only allowed him to come as a favor to Hamburg’s coach, who was a former player for Dyer.
Pippen came in at 6-foot-1 and as a freshman saw limited playing time. But, before he returned for his second season, he grew about half a foot and became an NAIA All-American.
Many know he was a first round NBA draft pick, in 1987, but few remember that he was selected not by Chicago, but by Seattle. The Bulls worked a draft day trade with the SuperSonics, swapping Olden Polynice for Pippen.
There may still be an arrest warrant out in Seattle for grand larceny, as the Bulls stole one of the best basketball players in history.
Because of his versatility, Pippen was one of the first players to contribute to the evolution of “positionless basketball.”
In the 1980’s, Magic Johnson may have really started it as a 6-foot-8 point guard in the body of a power forward.
In the 1990’s, Pippen may have redefined it as a very athletic 6-foot-7 small forward who could run the point, rebound, play great defense, and score when needed to complement Jordan.
Think now of guys like Kevin Garnett, Kevin Durant, Ben Simmons, Giannis Antetokounmpo and of course LeBron James. All very large men who can do just about anything with a basketball.
There is no doubt Jordan made Pippen a better player. Jordan was legendary for pushing teammates in practice. But none of Jordan’s teammates responded the way Pip did.
Critics say Pippen never won an NBA title without Jordan. But Jordan never won one without Pippen either.
Pippen had a reputation of being a little prickly at times, and some of that was earned.
But, his journey from rural Arkansas to the highest levels of international basketball stardom is unprecedented and had to be more challenging to deal with than any of us could know.
But time helps people put things in perspective. When he returned to Conway in 2010 to have UCA retire his No. 33 jersey, he could not have been nicer or more engaging.
Next week, we’ll look further at Pippen’s place in NBA history.