By Chris Le
Late last week, six-time NBA champion, Scottie Pippen, announced that after 3 years of retirement, he hopes to make a comeback. At 41 years old, one has to question whether he is physically able to succeed in a league that is younger and faster than ever. But regardless of whether Pippen does make a return or not, one fact is undeniable: in his prime, he was one of the greatest players the NBA has ever seen.
Haters keep on saying the same thing. He was a choker. He was nothing without Michael Jordan, that anyone could win six titles with MJ. He’s an undeserving member of the NBA’s 50 Greatest Players.
I say that’s bullshit.
Having Jordan as a teammate doesn’t change the fact that Pippen was without question among the most versatile players in the league. There wasn’t an aspect of the game he could not do. Firstly, he was a 6’7” forward who ran the triangle, probably the most complicated offensive scheme in the game, to perfection. It was Phil Jackson’s implementation of the triangle offense that finally pushed the Chicago Bulls from perennial contender to a full-blown dynasty. Without the triangle, Jordan doesn’t have six championships; and without Pippen, there is no triangle offense. Pippen was a forward that played point and excelled in this particular system; or I should say, this system succeeded because of Pippen. So in a way, it was Pippen that made Jordan and his team better. If my memory serves me correctly, Pippen holds the record for most assists all-time for a non-guard with 6,125—a stat that attests to Scottie’s versatility.
Yes, Jordan was the engine, but Scottie was the driver.
And Pippen was no one trick pony. He wasn’t like a Dominique Wilkins, a Dennis Rodman, or a George Gervin, one of those who only produced on one side of the court. As good as Scottie was at running an offense, he was even better on the defensive side. No matter what your opinion is regarding his greatness, no one can refute that Pippen was one of the best perimeter defenders to ever lace up a pair of sneakers. As an 8-time, First Team All-NBA defender, Pippen—not Michael Jordan—often took on the task of defending the opposing teams’ best offensive player. His ability to essentially lockdown any player from point guard to power forward was vital to the Bulls’ success.
Yet many maintain that it was Jordan who made Pippen and the Bulls great. I don’t question the latter at all; MJ’s presence pushed his team into the stratum of all-time greats. But what I uphold, and many reject, is that Pippen’s greatness was not contingent on his Airness. Scottie did not need Jordan to be a top 50 player of all-time.
Check out the 1993-1994 season, when MJ retired.
Pippen put up 22.0 points, 8.7 rebounds, 5.6 assists, and a league leading 2.9 steals a game, on his way to earning an All-Star MVP and a third-place finish in the NBA MVP voting. That year, the Chicago Bulls finished the regular season with a 55-27 record, two less wins than the previous season when the Bulls won the championship. In the 1993-1994 season, without the greatest player to ever play basketball, Pippen was only one game away from leading his team to the Eastern Conference Finals, losing to the New York Knicks in seven games.
I believe that season proved that Pippen was great with or without Jordan. Sure, the Bulls didn’t win the whole thing, but Scottie demonstrated that he had what it takes to guide a team deep into the playoffs. And who knows how far Scottie could’ve led his team if he had more than one year without MJ.
But let’s get something straight—I’m not claiming that Pippen is a top 10 player all-time. However, I am adamant in my belief that he is easily in the top 50 (probably top 30-35), and that Jordan would not be wearing six rings without him. I’m just tired of people labeling him as the most overrated player of all-time (Karl Malone, anyone?).
It has come to the point where so many people think Pippen is overrated, he is beginning to be underrated. And you know what? Even with diminished physical ability, maybe he can make a comeback and succeed, because he was that great.
Upon second thought, Pippen will most likely suck if he comes back. No one outside of Jordan is that great.
All images copyright of the National Basketball Association.