Are Karl Malone and John Stockton underestimated?
NBA Legends Series: Scottie Pippen - Forever in Michael Jordan's shadow
One of the 50 best players in history celebrates his 55th birthday today: Scottie Pippen. The forward won championships, became a superstar, was one of the best defenders of all time, played in the dream team - and was always overshadowed by Michael Jordan.
This article first appeared on September 25, 2016. All other stories about the legends of the NBA can be found here in our archive!
Karl Malone marches to the line. He probably doesn't have in mind what day it is (Sunday, by the way). At this moment, that doesn't really interest you in the least. After all, we are seconds from the end of game one of the 1997 Finals. The score is 82:82. If Malone hits both free throws, the signs point to surprise, to a first victory for Utah Jazz against the reigning champions from Chicago.
So concentration. As always, the Power Forward mumbles something to himself, but suddenly hears Scottie Pippen's sonorous voice from the side. "Karl, the mailman doesn't deliver on Sundays," he says - putting a little flea in the mailman's ear. It is of course not clear whether Pippen's words really have an effect. The fact is, however, that Malone does not actually deliver. Both free throws clap the ring.
The Bulls have a good seven seconds to decide the game in their favor. And after you can rely on Michael Jordan in moments like this, it happens as it has to. His airness shakes off Bryon Russell as he was playing his very first NBA game, rises high - silence. Buzzer. Swish! The bulls win. Thanks Jordan. Again. MJ is the focus, Pippen paved the way.
One of the best duos in history
It was actually always like that when one of the best duos in NBA history stood together on the court. Michael Jeffrey Jordan and Scottie Maurice Pippen complemented each other close to the optimum during their almost 10 years together in Chicago. With the number 23 the exceptional scorer, the personified will to win, who finally lost games only after the final siren. With 33, the defense specialist, who was no less greedy for victories and titles, always sacrificed himself for the team and did all the little things that made the grandmaster's great deeds possible in the first place.
However, this also meant that Pip was somehow in MJ's shadow during his career, that his successes were always associated with His Airness, while Jordan liked to win a game on his own.
"Even the positive things that Pippen did were the little ones that lie in the shadows and that only the experienced eye can see," wrote Jack McCallum in his book about the 1992 Dream Team. "Since he came to Chicago in 1987, his reality has always been within the framework of Jordan's all-consuming charisma. No matter who I spoke to, GM's or Gambler, we couldn't discuss Scottie Pippen without mentioning the name Jordan . "
Pippen brings first playoff win for Jordan
Pippen without Jordan? Inconceivably! On the other hand, it is sometimes forgotten how much MJ also benefited from his wing partner. At the beginning of his career, Jordan was long considered an outstanding scorer, an exceptional athlete - but not a winner.
In fact, His Airness didn't win a playoff series during his first three and a half years in the league. Not a single one. It took a, well, special Doug Collins measure for Chicago to win game five against the Cleveland Cavaliers in round one in 1988, making it back into the Conference Semi-Finals for the first time since 1981.
The coach placed a rookie in the starting five who had not previously experienced a single NBA tip-off on the floor. Under the greatest possible pressure, Scottie Pippen had to, should, have to prove himself. And he did. Pippen attacked, played defense and in the end put on a strong 24 points, 6 rebounds and 5 assists.
Pippen, the high school point guard
Chicago won and had the privilege of congratulating itself on trading to the Seattle SuperSonics following the 1987 Draft Olden Polynice plus future draft options for the fifth-place Pippen. They recognized the exceptional talent of the formerly slender, only 1.85 meter tall Point Guard of Hamburg High School.
However, if a surge in growth during his time at the small University of Central Arkansas hadn't caused Pippen to shoot up to a good two meters high, Chicago would probably not have been tempted - and would have withheld one of the most profitable partnerships in basketball history.
Side by side, MJ and Pip shaped an entire era. They finally put an end to their long-running nightmare, the Detroit Pistons, in 1991, dismantling Magics Lakers into their individual parts and finally celebrating their premiere title. Five more were to follow. With Jordan as leader, scorer and closer and Pippen as a loyal adjutant.
"Sometimes the biggest challenge a player has is getting used to his role on the team," said Pip once, showing that he understood. Understood how he could best help his team and use his outstanding physical capabilities profitably.
"I am convinced that Pippen would have become a world-class athlete if he had focused on that," said Jack McCallum, describing Pippen's athletic abilities. Now, however, Pippen concentrated on basketball. Luckily. For him. For the bulls. For everyone who has a more or less deep love for orange leather. If Chicago's number 33 had decided differently, the basketball world would have been cheated of one of the best perimeter defenders in history.
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