There’s only one moment in my life I’ve ever claimed to be a fan of Scottie Pippen.
No offense, Mr. Pippen, it's just that I grew up in suburban Detroit watching the Bad Boys beat up on your Bulls in the late '80s as the Pistons were capturing their first two championships. That and my twin brother, Scott, idolized Michael Jordan, like most other kids our age, and loved the Bulls – I just wasn't going down that road.
(We hadn’t dressed alike since we were toddlers and high school is no time to revisit that fashion faux pas by sporting Bulls garb.)
So, while I could appreciate the talented Bulls, I also grew to dislike them deeply, a feeling that would swell as I watched them win the title again and again and again.
But despite my loyalty to Isiah, Joe D. and Co., there’s one All-Star moment involving a Bulls player that takes precedence in my mind and makes even Zeke’s two MVP performances in three years take a back seat: Scottie Pippen, 1994.
Many will recall this moment at the Target Center in Minneapolis as Scottie’s coming out party, the day he stepped out of M.J.’s shadow and starred on a grand stage without Jordan for the first time in his career. Rightfully so, as Pippen went off for 29 points, 11 boards and four steals on that day and hoisted the games Most Valuable Player trophy.
For me, however, the moment wasn’t about his stat line, but the game-high 31 minutes he logged running up and down the floor while donning those fire-engine-red sneakers.
Talk about stepping out of Jordan’s shadow. Scottie assumed the spotlight, left empty as Jordan shagged baseballs for the White Sox minor league outfit. For years, it had been Jordan who had the kids my age talking about sneakers, as Mars Blackman repeatedly asked, “Money, it’s gotta be the shoes?” But here it was Pippen who had my school abuzz the following day: "Did you see those red shoes?" and "Man, they were ugly!"
No, the shoes didn’t make Scottie jump higher or run faster, but maybe they did give him a little extra confidence in his shot that day – after all, you have to be pretty self-assured to venture out in public wearing anything so bold. Pippen was feeling it in practice and kept connecting from deep throughout the game, hitting 5-of-9 triples – one short of the mark for makes set a year earlier by Mark Price.
"That was just something that was thrown out there during my summer meetings with Nike," Pippen told Bulls.com before his No. 33 jersey was retired last December, referring to the red shoes. "I said, 'Sure, I’ll do it.'"
Congratulations, Nike. For once in my life I was sold. I didn’t care what my classmates said; I had to have a pair. And it didn’t matter that my brother was saying the same thing. So the two of us weren’t only twins by birth, but we actually looked the part on the courts of our hometown as we wore our red and black high tops, just as Scottie did in the All-Star Game.
It may not seem such a radical concept these days, when nearly every player has a signature shoe, but a time actually existed not too long ago when nobody broke out custom kicks for the All-Star Game. Scottie’s version of Cinderella’s slippers certainly didn’t hold to such a convention, which is most certainly why I was so blown away.
A few short months later it could have just been bitterness because the Pistons had won only 20 games that season, but I took particular joy in watching the Bulls drop the Eastern Conference semis to the Knicks – even as Scottie was vilified for refusing to re-enter a game in the closing seconds.
I was back to despising the Bulls and their newest leader, Scottie Pippen, even though I still had those red Nikes laced snugly on my feet.