The most controversial play of Scottie Pippen’s career came in the second round of the 1994 postseason. With the score tied at 102 in the final seconds of Game 3 against the New York Knicks, Chicago Bulls coach Phil Jackson drew up the final shot for rookie forward Toni Kukoc, and Pippen was so upset by the decision that he removed himself from the game. Kukoc made the shot, but with Pippen still upset over Jackson’s decision, the Bulls couldn’t overcome the Knicks and lost in six games.
Pippen had led the Bulls to 55 wins without Michael Jordan that season. He grew into an MVP candidate capable of keeping Chicago afloat despite the absence of its greatest player, and as such, he felt he deserved the last shot in such a big game. Pippen has been open about that for years. But in a recent GQ interview with Tyler R. Tynes, Pippen went deeper. He argued that Jackson’s decision was racially motivated.
“I don’t think it’s a mystery, you need to read between the fine lines,” Pippen said. “It was my first year playing without Michael Jordan, why wouldn’t I be taking that last shot? I been through all the ups and downs, the battles with the Pistons and now you gonna insult me and tell me to take it out? I thought it was a pretty low blow. I felt like it was an opportunity to give [Kukoc] a rise. It was a racial move to give him a rise. After all I’ve been through with this organization, now you’re gonna tell me to take the ball out and throw it to Toni Kukoc? You’re insulting me. That’s how I felt.”
On Monday, Pippen appeared on the “Dan Patrick Show” and elaborated on that point. Patrick began his question by saying “By saying it was a racial move then you’re calling Phil Jackson a racist.” Pippen responded by saying “I don’t have a problem with that.” When Patrick asked Pippen explicitly if he was saying Jackson was a racist, he responded by saying “oh yeah,” before criticizing Jackson’s coaching methods.
DP: “.. By saying it was a racial move then you’re calling Phil Jackson a racist…”
Pippen: “I don’t have a problem with that.”
DP: “Do you think Phil was?”
Pippen: “Oh yeah…”
“Do you remember Phil Jackson left the Lakers and then wrote a book on Kobe Bryant and then came back and coached him?” Pippen asked, as transcribed by Liz Roscher of Yahoo Sports. “I mean, who would do that? You name someone in professional sports that would do that. I think he tried to expose Kobe in a way that he shouldn’t have. You’re the head coach. You’re the guy who sits in the locker room and tells the players ‘this is a circle, and everything stays within the circle, and that’s what team is about.’ But you as the head coach, opening up, and now you go out and try to belittle at that time one of the greatest players in the game?”
Patrick went on to ask about Steve Kerr taking the series-clinching shot in the 1997 Finals against the Utah Jazz. Patrick pointed out that Jordan was caught on camera telling Kerr to be ready because he was going to pass him the ball. Pippen argued that Jordan did that primarily for the sake of the cameras.
“You know all those cameras who was sitting in that huddle, who they was working for? You know who Michael was speaking to, right? That was planned,” Pippen said. “That was speaking to the camera. That wasn’t speaking out of, what we’re gonna have to do, what the play is gonna be. That was speaking to the camera. Had John Stockton not came down — trust me. That was building his own documentary, because he knew he was controlling the cameras. All those cameras were working basically for Michael Jordan, not the Chicago Bulls … That was not naturally spoken. That was rehearsed.”
When Pippen wanted a trade out of Houston in 1999, the Washington Post‘s Landon Hall reported that his first choice was to reunite with Jackson on the Los Angeles Lakers. A deal never materialized, and Pippen was dealt to the Portland Trail Blazers instead. It is unclear whether Pippen harbored these feelings at the time or if they only developed later. He has spoken openly about his displeasure with how he was portrayed in ESPN’s documentary on the Bulls, “The Last Dance,” and has been very forthcoming about his experiences in Chicago ever since.
Courtesy: CBS Sports