The Last Dance’s Scottie Pippen On The Controversial Career Decision He Thinks Will Follow Him To The Grave

Scottie Pippen on The Last Dance
(Image credit: ESPN)

The past few weeks have surely been a time of reflection for basketball legend Scottie Pippen. With the recent release of his new memoir, the former small forward has been incredibly candid about his playing career, especially his relationship with former teammate Michael Jordan. Pippen has taken a number of shots at his on-court comrade, but he’s also spoken about his own past actions. There’s actually one in particular that the Last Dance alum believes will follow him to his grave, and it actually occurred after Jordan left the team to pursue baseball.

In the 1994 NBA Playoffs, the Bulls took on their fierce rivals, the New York Knicks, in the Eastern Conference Semifinals. The Chicago team had taken down the Knicks in the postseason over the past three years (during which the Bulls won three championships). However, the team found itself down two games to New York by Game 3. With 1.8 seconds left in the game and the score tied at 102, coach Phil Jackson drew up a play for Toni Kukoc, which would’ve had Scottie Pippen inbounding the ball. This didn’t sit well with Pippen, who had been the team’s leading scorer all season. With this, he opted not to leave the bench and refused to get back on the court. 

Toni Kukoc ultimately made the shot and secured the win for the team, yet the fallout from the incident has lingered for decades. Scottie Pippen is also fully aware of how his decision is still deeply ingrained in basketball fans’ memories. When he recently appeared on The Daily Show, he had no problem chatting on the subject and how it’s impacted the game. He also revealed whether he has any regrets about what he did (or didn’t) do:

I think, for what people saw from the outside, they had never saw a player really stand up for himself against a coach in that type of situation. And I think I was that player to sort of break that ice. It was a moment in time for me, because I’ve been challenged my whole life. And I had been playing under the wings of Michael Jordan for, I guess at that time, six years, three championships. So I felt like it was time for me to break out and to let them know that, ‘Hey, I came here to be a star player. I didn’t come here to be a second fiddler to anyone.’ And I think I needed to make that stance.

The hall of famer’s choice was shocking, to say the least but, considering what he’d done that past season, one can somewhat see why he’d be frustrated. Over the course of the 1993-1994 season, he’d led the team in scoring, assists and blocks and was one of the league’s top leaders in steals per game. He’d also been crowned the MVP of the 1994 NBA All-Star Game. As a whole, most would agree that he was indeed able to step out of the shadow of his retired teammate in the process. 

The emphasis placed on Michael Jordan seems to be one of the issues Scottie Pippen has with his colleague. In his memoir, Unguarded, Pippen aired his feelings on ESPN’s The Last Dance, which he believes was produced as a way for Jordan to “glorify” himself. He believed the 10-part show didn’t shine a light on the entire Bulls team and put most of the focus on His Airness. Pippen even went as far as to say that Jordan “ruined basketball,” (opens in new tab) as he thinks team-oriented play seemed to shift when the Space Jam star rose to prominence. Other players of that era like Charles Barkley and fellow Inside the NBA host Kenny Smith have since commented on these assertions. Both acknowledged Pippen’s skills but didn't believe series depicted any inaccuracies.

Though his problems with his former teammate and the docuseries will likely persist, it appears Scottie Pippen has no problem with his end-of-game decision from 1994. It’s likely that sports aficionados will continue to weigh the merits of his choice and its impact as time goes on. Still, at the very least, you have to give Pippen some credit for being open about his feelings on this topic and others. 

You can check out more on the basketball legend’s days with the Chicago Bulls by streaming The Last Dance on Netflix or ESPN+.

Erik Swann
Senior Content Producer

Covering superheroes, sci-fi, comedy, and almost anything else in film and TV. I eat more pizza than the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.