After Scottie Pippen stole the ball of the inbound play and Toni Kukoč dunked it on the other end, The United Center erupted. The Chicago Bulls became NBA champions for the fifth time in seven years. It was a continuation of their historic run, the one that secured their number on the list of the all-time greatest teams.
What happened next was a familiar sight. Michael Jordan earned the honor of being the Finals MVP for the fifth time. It was to be expected, given that Jordan averaged 32.3 PPG, 7 RPG, and 6 APG and was by far the most dominant force on the floor. However, the one who played a crucial role in Bulls beating the Jazz was Jordan’s second fiddle – Scottie Pippen. Michael recognized his value for the team, giving him credit while accepting the Bill Russell trophy.
“We are a tandem. It’s hard to split us up. He means a lot to me when I go out and play on the basketball court; he relieves a lot of the pressure that I have to deal with, I try to do the same for him. It’s hard to take this MVP by myself; he’s got to take half of it. I’ll take the trophy; he may get the car.”Michael Jordan
It was a heart pouring moment for Michael. He wasn’t just showing appreciation for Pippen’s finals performance. It was his gratitude for what Pip has done for him and the team over the years. Not to get it twisted. Pippen was significant in that series, averaging 20 PPG, 8.3 RPG, and 3.5 APG. But it wasn’t solely about those six games.
Pippen was a perfect fit next to his Airness. Not just as a basketball player, but personality-wise. He was everything Michael wasn’t. Cool, calm, supportive, a different type of leader, as portraited in the seventh episode of The Last Dance. With Jordan stepping away from basketball, Scottie stepped out of his shadow and had the light all shining on him. And he filled his shoes, to the point that it was hard to notice they were without their best player. It even seemed that some players needed the break of Jordan’s torture, and Pippen was the perfect anti-Jordan as the leader on and off the court.
That was another thing Jordan appreciated. With the whole circus created around MJ’s retirement, Pippen had a crucial role in keeping the team focused on basketball. He sparked a new flame in his teammates, securing them the landscape to show their worth without everything gravitating to Michael. He did it by playing team basketball, running the triangle to perfection, and not making it about himself, at least during the regular season.
Scottie was a perfect Robin to Jordan’s Batman. He was a facilitator to Jordan’s finisher, and he excelled at the role. Although being talented enough to be a team leader, Pippen adjusted his workload to the team’s needs. He had the basketball IQ high enough to set his ego aside and do what is best for the organization. And he did it for years, without a significant “I should get more credit” moment. That was Pippen’s worth for the Bulls. He was everything Mike needed – low maintenance, a high skill basketball player with a softer personality, and very few insecurities.
MJ giving him credit on the biggest basketball stage, solidified Pippen’s impact on the Bulls’ winning basketball. Not that he needed the validation, but just the fact that Jordan was willing to share the award with him shows how important Pip was for him. And he certainly was, being the key ingredient in a perfect recipe.