Scottie Pippen Rides to the Bulls’ Rescue in 1993-94
He will forever be remembered as Robin to Michael Jordan’s Batman, however, Bulls Hall of Famer Scottie Pippen was very much a superstar in his own right, as it could legitimately be claimed that for over a decade Chicago’s No. 2 may well have been the second-best player in the entire NBA.
Officially recognized in 1997 as one of the 50 Greatest players in NBA history, the 6’7” Pippen could literally play every position on the floor — even center — as he often did when certain defensive schemes were employed. Technically a small forward, Pippen could dribble and pass like a point guard, rebound like a power forward, and score like a shooting guard. Defensively, he proved lethal, using his quickness, agility, instincts and long arms to lock up and/or shutdown every high-powered opponent that stepped onto the hardwood.
For many years, Pippen at times appeared frustrated having to live in Jordan’s immense shadow. However, those close to the Bulls, especially Jordan, understood just how talented and how important a player he was to Chicago’s success.
“I know Scottie makes me a better player every day,” Jordan often said of his longtime teammate. “Unfortunately it may take a while, after we both retire, for everyone else to realize just how special a player Scottie Pippen is.”
When Jordan shocked the world in announcing he was retiring from the NBA right before the opening of training camp to tip-off the 1993-94 season, it was Pippen who stepped up to be the Bulls’ leader, winning MVP honors at the 1994 All-Star Game and spearheading Chicago’s unexpected stampede to the playoffs.
While many predicted the Bulls were no better than a .500 team without Jordan, Pippen steered them to an impressive 55-27 mark, averaging career-highs of 22.0 points, 8.7 rebounds, and 2.3 steals per game and earning his first selection to the All-NBA First Team. Playing in his fourth All-Star Game (Scottie would eventually end up a seven-time All-Star), Pippen posted 29 points and snagged 11 rebounds in 31 minutes and was named the game’s MVP.
Emotions ran hot throughout Chicago’s 1994 NBA playoff run as Pippen once again led the Bulls in scoring (22.8), rebounding (8.3), and assists (4.6) in the team’s 10 postseason battles. Three highly-charged incidents during the Eastern Conference Semifinals against the New York Knicks standout the most: The first occurred during the final moments of Game 3 at the Chicago Stadium.
With Chicago trailing 2-0 in the series, and the score knotted at 102 with 1.8 seconds remaining, Head Coach Phil Jackson drew up a play during a timeout designed to free up rookie Toni Kukoc to take the last shot while Pippen would play the role of decoy, duping New York into following him to the other side of the floor. Pippen, who had played 40 minutes and had led the Bulls in scoring with 25 points up to that point became upset and refused to go back onto the floor. Kukoc, who had played just 12 minutes and notched six points up to that moment, ended up receiving an inbounds pass from Pippen’s replacement, Pete Myers, and quickly slid to an open spot to nail a game-winning 22-foot jumper to give the Bulls a 104-102 victory.
The second biggest event of the series occurred at New York’s Madison Square Garden in Game 5 when veteran referee Hue Hollins whistled Pippen for a foul with only 2.1 seconds left in the game and the Bulls leading 86-85. With the ball swinging from one side of the court to the other, second year guard Hubert Davis ended up being wide open at the top of the key for a jumper. Pippen leapt towards Davis with his arm extended, but did not hit him. Nonetheless Hollins called a foul and Davis calmly sank both charity tosses for the win, giving New York a 3-2 series edge.
The last memorable moment during the ’94 playoffs involving Pippen took place back at the Chicago Stadium in Game 6.
In what many call their favorite moment of his career, Pippen unleashed a thunderous dunk on top of Knicks center Patrick Ewing to send a raucous standing room only crowd of 18,676 into a frenzy as the Bulls eventually stormed past their rivals, 93-79, evening the series at 3-3. The contest ended up being the final game ever played at the Stadium, as the Bulls moved into the United Center located across the street the following year.
The Knicks ended up winning the series in Game 7 back home at the Garden a couple of days later, 87-77, and went on to capture the Eastern Conference crown in seven games over the Indiana Pacers. However, New York’s dream season ended at the NBA Finals against the Houston Rockets — in a third straight seven game series.
Pippen went on to have another outstanding season the following year (1994-95) — the same year Jordan returned to the NBA in late March after playing minor league baseball for a season with the Chicago White Sox’s AA team, the Birmingham Barons.
Discounting the numbers put up by Jordan in 17 late-season games, Pippen led the Bulls in five categories — scoring (21.4), rebounding (8.1), assists (5.2), steals (2.94 per game, tops in the league), and blocked shots (1.13). At the time he was the first NBA player to lead his team in five statistical categories since Boston Hall of Famer Dave Cowens did the same for the Celtics during the 1977-78 season. Pippen was also named to both the All-NBA and All-NBA Defensive First Teams for the 1994-95 season.