Of all the events covered in the ESPN docuseries The Last Dance, one that's garnered among the most controversy centers on legendary former player Scottie Pippen (opens in new tab). Coming off a spectacular season in which Pippen helped lead the Bulls to a 55-27 record, Pippen butted heads with then-coach Phil Jackson. In Game 3 of the playoffs against the New York Knicks in 1994, Pippen sat out the final seconds (opens in new tab) of the game, because Jackson had drawn up a play that he didn't like. In The Last Dance, Pippen is heavily scrutinized for the move—and Pippen's not happy about what was said about him. So what happened, exactly?
There was a disagreement between Pippen and Jackson.
Pippen is portrayed in the series as being vastly underpaid—he signed a long-term, lower-paying contract, despite some advice not to—and frustrated. He was also integral to the team, especially that year, according to Jackson. "Scottie was our prime motivator, initiator...(He) organized the offense. He really stepped into that role." Jordan had abruptly retired in 1993 (opens in new tab) after his father died, although he would return to the Bulls in 1995.
In Game 3, the Bulls were down 2-0 in the second-round series. It was the final seconds of the game, and Jackson drew up a play for another player Toni Kukoc, who was known for game-winning scores. Pippen apparently felt slighted (he was also irritated at Kukoc for forcing him to take a bad shot earlier), and refused to get up onto the court. "I felt like it was an insult coming from Phil," Pippen explained in The Last Dance. "I was the most dangerous guy on our team, so why are you asking me to take the ball out?"
Jackson came to Pippen and asked if he was in or out; Pippen replied he was out. Fellow player Steve Kerr said, "I remember Phil said, 'Fuck him; Pete Myers, come on in.'" Kukoc did score, and the Bulls won, but the team explained that felt confused and pissed.
Pippen is reportedly upset with how he's been portrayed in the series.
At the time, Pippen was heavily criticized for the move, with his ego, his insubordination, and his "mutinous" behavior all called into question. It was a shame, because Pippen's performance that season was stellar (he was widely considered to be Jordan's right-hand man, so he had more of a chance to shine when Jordan wasn't there).
Of the event, Pippen explains, "It's one of those incidents where I wish it never happened...but if I had a chance to do it over again I probably wouldn't change it."
He also clarified why he was so angry: "What was going through my mind is that I wanted to be there," he said. "Not to take the last shot, necessarily, but just to be an option. All game long I'm being utilized offensively, and now we're taking a last-second shot and you're going to tell me to take the ball out."
It's worth noting that at the time, Jordan had thoughts in Pippen's favor. "Phil knew how much that would piss Scottie off...I wonder why he did it?" But the portrayal in The Last Dance is quite different.
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Katherine’s a Boston-based contributor at Marie Claire who covers fashion, culture, and lifestyle—from “The Bachelor” to Everlane to Meghan Markle. Igoe: “I go to the store,” not “Her huge ego."
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