Scottie Pippen is, without a doubt, a historical figure in NBA lore. But when we look back at his legendary career, many cannot help but feel bad about how he failed to win a championship without his former Chicago Bulls co-star Michael Jordan.
For obvious reasons, the spotlight was on Jordan during the 90s Bulls’ heyday. In the process, Pippen, who was also a perennial All-Star player, spent those dominant seasons under MJ’s shadow. So, when Jordan retired for the second time in 1998, Pippen left the Bulls for the Houston Rockets.
At the time, Houston was yearning to become a championship team again. The Rockets already made the first move by signing Charles Barkley two seasons ago. And they were oozing with confidence that Pippen was the final piece of the puzzle.
Unsurprisingly, Pippen felt the same as he thought it was a chance to prove to everybody that he could also lead a team to a championship. Yes, Olajuwon and Barkley were big names, but Pippen, as well as everybody, knew they weren’t Jordan.
“It’s important from a personal standpoint,” Pippen said when asked about what it meant to win a championship without Jordan. “I think this organization has invested a lot in me to come here and put this team back to a championship level.”
Three superstars was different from the triangle
After being delayed due to the lockout, Pippen, Barkley, and Olajuwon finally set sail. Fans were excited, but along with it came frustration.
Instead of becoming the most dominant team in the league, Houston couldn’t maximize the amount of talent they had. Barkley’s weight issues became a staple, and Olajuwon wasn’t the same MVP-type player.
As for Pippen, he ultimately realized that the team’s offensive strategy never complimented his game.
“I kept feeding the ball to them in the low post,” Pippen said of the 1998-99 Rockets. “That was my whole job. Which meant a lot of standing around and watching them play one-on-one. I was used to the triangle, to the ball moving from one player to the next on every possession until we found the best scoring opportunity. I felt as I were back in the late eighties, watching Michael throw up a million shots night after night.”
The star-studded Rockets finished the season with a 31-19 record. They made it to the postseason but were eliminated by the Los Angeles Lakers in the first round. Pippen did not lose hope and joined the Portland Trail Blazers the following season, only to become part of a talented yet dysfunctional team plagued with ego, attitude, and controversy. But somehow, they managed to come close to making it to the Finals.
In 2003, Pippen knew it was coming to an end. He made an epic return to Chicago and, ironically, played the last “23” games of his career on the team Jordan once ruled.