Scottie Pippen is recognized as one of the most versatile forwards to ever play in the NBA, and even though he had a great career, his start in the league wasn't so smooth. As a rookie, Pippen received minutes coming from the bench, where he averaged 21 minutes per game during his rookie year. Even though the potential was evident, it took Pippen some time to get adequately adjusted to being a pro and playing at such a high level.
In one of his recent interviews, Pippen said a back injury he suffered at the end of his rookie year came in as a blessing in disguise. Pippen understood that playing in the NBA, apart from being physically fit, also demands a sharp mind and readiness in every possible aspect. Guidance from some of his older teammates helped him in understanding that even though he is young, he should take care of any potential injuries that could affect him performing on a high level.
"Probably the best thing that happened to me was that I hurt my back after my first year in the league because it really put me in a position to focus on the physical aspect of how to survive in this game and how I would survive as a player with a bad back. It was a big challenge for me. I feel like I met that challenge, surviving 16 years of hard playing. Those things that I dealt with early on in my career definitely prepared me for learning and getting better."
During his rookie year, Pippen was playing as a back up for Brad Sellers and Charles Oakley, and it was the veteran players like Oakley that pointed him in the right direction. Pippen specifically mentioned Charles Oakley and lesser-known Sedale Threatt, who played as a combo-guard for the Bulls as players who he studied and saw what they were doing to be true professionals. Threatt who had a long NBA career was a real "gym-rat," according to Pippen, and he knew playing the NBA is a privilege, so he made sure he was prepared at all times.
"I have to give credit to a lot of veteran players that I played with, too, that toughened me up early, like Charles Oakley. Having the opportunity to play with a guy like Sedale Threatt, who is the epitome of the gym rat. A lot of their habits rubbed off on me, even bad habits too, but you try to hold those down. Those were things that really helped develop me as a player."
Pippen flourished in his sophomore season when he dramatically increased his playing minutes and, therefore, the production on both ends of the floor. From that moment, it was clear the Bulls have another versatile forward who will help Jordan in the upcoming years, which he most definitely did. Pippen also had a long career, but the working habits and a diligent approach to the game came early in his career by having great mentors on his side that helped him during that process.