The Austin Chronicle

Coach's Corner

By Andy "Coach" Cotton, December 5, 1997, Columns

How can a dog bark all night? Why don't steel ships sink to the bottom of the sea? Why can't I touch that rainbow, and where is that pot of gold? Why can't I match one number on a lottery ticket? Why are women too hot in the summer, too cold in the winter? What makes the lemming make that final plunge into the ocean far below? I don't know. Nor can I tell you what makes Scottie Pippen such a jerk, and a self-destructive jerk to boot. At two perfectly framed moments in his career, Pippen's been smack on the edge of the public acclaim he seems to desperately need. Both times, he's bull-whipped himself back from the precipice of public acceptance, in each case casting a dark cloud over his reputation.

The first moment came on May 18, 1994, in the third game of the Eastern Conference Semifinals against the New York Knicks. This was the year Jordan put away his basketball and picked up his baseball mitt. This was going to be the year when Chicago, two-time NBA champions, fell completely apart. We were going to see how this was always just a one man show. The Bulls would be lucky to be average. Well, that's what everybody said, anyway. After a shaky start, the Pippen-led Bulls won 55 games. And then came those 1.3 seconds, a flicker in time Pippen will never live down. With Chicago down by two, Phil Jackson drew up the Bulls' final play. He had the gall to use Pippen as a decoy. He wanted Tony Kukoc to take the last shot. Incredibly, in front of a national television audience, at the critical moment of the season, a petulant, adolescent Pippen refused to enter the game. If he couldn't shoot, he wasn't going to play. Every fan's image of the spoiled, pampered, selfish athlete was embodied in the visage of #33 pouting on the bench as Kukoc won the game with a buzzer-beating three-pointer.

Fast forward to this year. With Pippen injured and unable to play until mid-December at the earliest, Chicago has become a .500 team. Win one, lose one. More disturbing to the Bulls' hopes for next spring's playoffs are the heavy minutes a 34-year-old Jordan must play, once again carrying the Bulls, mostly by himself, on his broad back. The team is frantically treading water, counting the days until Pippen returns. On television, talk radio, and national print media, everyone says that without Scottie, the Bulls don't work. Long overdue credit and recognition for the huge part he -- Scottie Pippen -- has played in the run of Chicago titles, is, finally, his. The unthinkable is thought. Everyone's always said that without Jordan, Pippen's just another good ballplayer. Now, people are starting to think that just maybe, Michael wouldn't be Michael were it not for Scottie Pippen.

He's being compared with Jordan. The world understands how good he is. Things are too good, so Scottie looks for another cliff. Long dissatisfied with a front-loaded, multi-year contract he wanted for security (at the time making him one of the highest paid players in the game), even though he was warned by management he was going to seem underpaid in the contract's later years, Pippen -- just as he did in the playoff game four years before -- snaps. He tells a reporter he isn't ever going to play for the Bulls again, regardless of his health. He demands a trade. The public and his teammates are dumbfounded. Other Bulls think he must be joking. Then the next day, Pippen says it again. He's unhappy with only making $3 million, so screw you, Jerry Reinsdorf and Jerry Krause. Oh, by the way, Michael and the rest of the team, screw you too. The public Jordan takes the high road, but according to the Chicago papers, privately he's furious, reflecting the tone, I'd imagine, of his teammates. Pippen tells his mates, scrambling to win games against Sacramento, that they're on their own, because he doesn't like the owner and GM... because he demanded -- and received -- a long-term contract a long time ago.

Not an image, but the reality of the sulky, spiteful, spoiled man-child is on display for all to see. Was Pippen treated unfairly by the Bulls? Yes. His salary is paltry by NBA standards, particularly for a perennial All-Star and two-time Olympian. They should've redone his contract long ago, rewarding his immeasurable contributions, and avoided this ugliness. But, they didn't. That's their choice. Next summer Pippen becomes a free agent, whereupon he can finally get the big money he wants.

On the other hand, the Bulls have put up with much from Scotty. Incessant harping about his salary. Very public displeasure over the signing of Kukoc. Numerous scrapes with the law. Multiple paternity suits. Migraine headaches before seventh games of Conference finals.

Isn't this nasty incident going to lessen his value next summer? What general manager isn't going to wonder about this guy? Is this a team guy? Is this the kind of veteran to have your young players emulate? Why didn't he keep quiet, play out the year, maybe add another championship to his gaudy resumé, and take the high road out of Chicago? Why do the lemmings walk off the cliff? Got me.

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