Scottie Pippen Biography
Chronology, Awards And Accomplishments, Career Statistics, Further InformationCONTACT INFORMATION
American basketball player
Considered one of the top basketball players of all time, point forward Scottie Pippen made news both on and off the court throughout his decades-long career as a professional athlete. Beginning in 1987 with the Chicago Bulls, Pippen has gone on to demonstrate his multiple talents in shooting, passing, blocking, and rebounding, as well as in defense strategy, and has become known even among non-basketball fans for his performance as part of the U.S. basketball "Dream Team" that took the gold at the Olympic Games in Barcelona, Spain, and Atlanta, Georgia.
Contributing to his reputation as one of the greatest forwards in professional basketball was Pippen's talent for complementing Bulls teammate Michael Jordan while Jordan rose to superstardom during the 1990s. Over-shadowed by Jordan throughout his tenure with the Bulls, Pippen also exhibited a sometimes erratic performance, moodiness, and a trouble-tinged personal life, all of which made his role as a top player somewhat controversial. His career was characterized by some as a balancing act between moments of athletic genius and spats of uncooperativeness and immaturity. However, in the broad view the balance falls on the plus side, at least in the opinion of the National Basketball Association (NBA) which voted the 6'8", 228-pound Pippen among the fifty top basketball players of all time in 1996.
Born in 1965 in Hamburg, Arkansas, Pippen was one of twelve children born to Preston and Ethel Pippen. Growing up in a rural hometown, the six Pippen brothers spent much of their time playing basketball, their family dogged by poverty after Preston, a paper mill worker suffered a debilitating stroke the year Pippen entered high school. Although he enjoyed basketball, Pippen's unremarkable stature—he did not attain his full height of 6'8" until he reached college—did little to hint at his future career. As a student, math was his favorite subject due to its practicality; basketball was simply recreation until his sophomore year, when he joined the school team and doubled as the football team equipment manager. As a high school senior the 6'1", 150-pound Pippen played starting point guard, but was unable to attract the attention of college scouts or scholarship monies. Convinced that basketball would provide the young man perhaps his only chance at furthering his education, Pippen's high school coach located a work-study arrangement at the University of Central Arkansas whereby Pippen could continue to play point guard and be team manager. Pippen enrolled at Central Arkansas in 1983, intending to major in industrial education and find a job as a factory manager.
Fortunately, Pippen began to gain some height following high school graduation, and by September he was 6'3". During his sophomore year he started a weight-training program, gained another two inches, and watched his game noticeably improve. Impressed, his coach had Pippen play not only forward but other positions as well. Viewed as the team's best all-around player during his last year at Central Arkansas, Pippen now averaged 23.6 points, 10 rebounds, and 4.3 assists per game. While his impressive performance at Central Arkansas registered slightly with Chicago Bulls general manager Jerry Krause, Pippen's equally impressive performance at a college all-star event in Portsmouth, Virginia transfixed Krause, who made a deal whereby Pippen was the number-five draft choice of the Seattle SuperSonics in late 1986 and immediately traded to the Chicago Bulls with a six-year contract worth over $5 million.
During the 1987-88 season the Bulls were led by coach Doug Collins and player Michael Jordan, who dominated Collins's starting lineup. As backup point forward Pippen averaged 7.9 points per game before becoming sidelined by a herniated disk that required back surgery. Missing the 1988-89 preseason as well as the first eight games that followed, he advanced to the starting lineup in late December by averaging 14.4 points per game. During the Eastern Conference playoffs Chicago downed their first two rivals before facing the Detroit Pistons. Suffering a concussion at the start of game six against Detroit, Pippen was forced from play and could only watch as the Bulls were downed in a hard-fought match.
The appointment of Phil Jackson to the Bulls' head coach spot at the start of the 1989-90 season was a boon for Pippen. Jackson's three-point offensive strategy allowed him greater freedom on the court. Scoring an average of 16.5 points per game, Pippen found himself on the NBA All-Star team for the first time. "He handles the ball well enough to be virtually a third guard," explained Sports Illustrated contributor Leigh Montville of Pippen, "dribbling up the floor in the Bulls offense. He is a point forward, … the modern all-purpose basketball part…. Guard him high, and he will take youlow. Guard him low, and he will take you high. Don't guard him for a moment? He is gone, rising over the basket and depositing the ball with a house-call efficiency that makes you remember Dr. Julius Erving himself." Eerily echoing the previous year's playoffs, the Bulls again faced Detroit, and fans again saw Pippen play poorly before being pulled from Game 7, this time due to migraine headaches. Chicago's 74-93 loss was put squarely on Pippen's shoulders by many fans, many of whom did not realize that the point forward was also mourning the recent death of his father, who had passed away during the playoffs.
Pippen returned for the Bulls' 1990-91 season a more focused player. After a heated contract dispute he ended the season with a guaranteed annual salary of $3.5 million through 1997-98. Pippen's efforts on the court justified the increase as he led the Bulls to a sweep of the conference championship series against the Pistons by scoring 17.8 points per game, 595 rebounds, 511 assists, and 193 steals. The Bulls went on to beat the Los Angeles Lakers in the world championship.
Pippen's stats during the 1991-92 season earned him a spot on both the 1992 All-Star game and the U.S. Olympic "Dream Team" alongside Jordan, Magic Johnson, and Larry Bird. He also continued to lead his team in assists. Ironically, considering these honors, in a playoff game against the New York Knicks his sprained ankle and injured wrist cost the team points and sparked renewed grumblings among Bulls fans. This time, however, the Bulls were victorious, and Pippen entered the final games of the playoffs in top form, then traveled to Barcelona, Spain to help the Dream Team take the 1992 gold medal.
The 1992-93 season found Pippen at the top of his game; he spearheaded a drive to the top of the Eastern Conference by beating the Knicks in the playoffs 4-0 and helped the Bulls become the first team to win three consecutive league titles since 1966. At the close of the season teammate Jordan announced that he was retiring to begin a second career in baseball, and Pippen filled the void by taking on a more active role on the court.
During the 1993-94 season an ankle injury kept Pippen out of the first ten games before he returned to boost the Bulls' standings with an average of 22 points, 8.7 rebounds, and 5.6 assists per game. He bagged NBA Most Valuable Player honors in the All-Star game by posting 29 points, 11 rebounds, and 4 steals before his now-characteristic fall from grace during the May, 1994 playoffs. During the final, crucial 1.8 seconds of the Bulls' third game against the Knicks, Pippen refused to return to the game after a time-out. Angered that teammate Toni Kukoc had been awarded both a lucrative contract and the final shot of the game, Pippen stubbornly sat out the final seconds, during which Kukoc's shot saved the game for the Bulls. Despite his subsequent apologies, Pippen found this action would haunt him as fans blamed him for the Bulls' ultimate loss of the series to New York.
Pippen's dissatisfaction with his team flooded over into his private life, and his name began to appear on more than just the sports pages during the 1993-94 season. In January 1994 he was arrested for possession of a firearm, although the charges were later dropped after the basketball star intimated allegations of racism on the part of the arresting officers. Subsequent reports revealed a domestic abuse charge by then-fiancee Yvette Deleone and a paternity suit by model Sonya Roby that cited Pippen as the father of her daughter, a surviving twin, and cost the athlete $10,000 despite his denial of the charge.
Although Pippen illustrated his continuing frustration with the 1994-95 season by throwing a chair onto the court in response to a call by officials during a game in January 1995, he finally gave Bulls fans something to cheer about the following February when he joined a returning Jordan and the recently acquired former Piston Dennis Rodman to propel the team to fifty wins in their first fifty-six games. Pippen managed to keep his legal problems off the court during the remainder of the 1995-96 season and averaged over nineteen points per game. Named to the All-NBA First Team for the third year in a row, he also walked away with a gold medal for his role in the 1996 U.S. basketball Olympic team. Bulls teammates Jordan, Pippen, and Rodman also became the first trio of teammates in thirteen years to make the NBA's All-Defensive Team.
The 1996-97 season, marking the end of Pippen's contract with the Bulls, was highlighted by his inclusion as one of the NBA's fifty greatest players. Taking advantage of his on- and off-court fame, the savvy athlete supplemented his annual salary of $2.25 million with $7 million from product endorsements and appearances on television programs such as ER and Chicago Sons. Pippen's biggest endorsement, with shoe manufacturer Nike, earned him between $2.5 to $3.5 million. The athlete's name recognition only improved when he led the Bulls to their fifth world championship, averaging 19.2 points and 6.8 rebounds in nineteen playoff games despite being hobbled with an injury to his left foot.
At the start of Pippen's tenth pro season, 1997-98, the thirty-two year old was sidelined for three months while recovering from foot surgery while rumors of his planned departure from the Bulls began to circulate. Undergoing more back surgery in July to repair two herniated disks, Pippen then accepted a deal whereby he was traded to the Houston Rockets after signing a five-year contract with the Bulls worth $67.2 million. Pippen ended his Bulls career with per-game averages of 18 points, 6.8 rebounds, and 5.3 assists.
During his first season with the Rockets, Pippen clearly welcomed the change in team affiliation. Joining fellow player Charles Barkley on the starting lineup, he adopted the new defensive system of Houston coach Rudy Tomjanovich, and led his new team in assists. However, by the following spring Pippen openly expressed frustration over the shortcomings of his team-mates—particularly Barkley—and his own inability to be cast in scoring positions, telling a Jet interviewer, "Playing the minutes I'm playing [without scoring] … makes the game not any fun anymore. My next step is to find out why this organization wanted me." As before, off-court troubles followed on-court troubles, and in May 1999 Pippen was arrested for driving while intoxicated, although the charges were later dropped
Because of his growing dissatisfaction with Houston, Pippen requested that he be traded, and in October of 1999 he found himself signed with the middle-ranked Portland Trailblazers. Although he helped Portland into the Western Conference finals in both 2000 and 2001, Pippen averaged only 11.3 points during the 2000-01 season. Exhibiting a playing style characterized by Chicago Tribune reporter Sam Smith as "toned down" and "quieter," the now-veteran Pippen's performance was praised by fellow teammate Steve Kerr as that of a player who "knows how to find you where you want the ball." Despite his fall from the national spotlight, Pippen expressed his satisfaction at playing on a team noted for its camaraderie and love of the game.
Although his accomplishments have been somewhat overshadowed by ups and downs in his personal life, Pippen developed into one of the greatest forwards in professional basketball, his success inspired in no small part by the straightened circumstances of his childhood. His pairing with superstar Jordan proved to be a double-edged sword: while he fueled Jordan's rise to stardom and helped make the Chicago Bulls a force to be reckoned with during most of the 1990s, his own abilities were often overshadowed. Determined to achieve a modest fortune in addition to professional success, Pippen has remained wise to the vagaries of professional sports, lending his name to a variety of products and appearing on several television programs while his name held value for commercial sponsors. Joining the Portland Trailblazers as a mature player, Pippen has continued to distinguish himself, his confidence and authority among younger, less experienced athletes bolstered by his multiple NBA records, Olympic wins, and countless other accolades.
Address: Office, Portland Trailblazers, One Center Ct., Suite 200, Portland, OR 97227. Online: http://www.nba.com/blazers.
Sketch by Pamela L. Shelton
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