Jordan, Bird and Paxson offer praise for Pippen
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Following Monday’s announcement that he will be inducted to basketball’s Hall of Fame in August, Scottie Pippen’s iPhone was overloaded with congratulatory phone calls and text messages.
The game’s greatest player of all-time, who happened to be Pippen’s teammate while the Bulls won six world championships in eight seasons, also reached out to share his thoughts on the achievement.
“I want to extend my congratulations and heartfelt best wishes to my teammate and friend, Scottie Pippen, on being elected to the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame,” Michael Jordan said in a statement. “To go from being a college walk-on to first ballot Hall of Famer is an improbable journey and is a true testament to Scottie’s hard work.
“He may have been known as a defensive specialist, but he had a great all-around game and was a quiet and unselfish force on our Chicago Bulls teams, as well as on the Dream Team,” Jordan added. “He earned a lot of honors throughout his career, but this is the ultimate achievement.”
Celtics legend Larry Bird, currently the Pacers’ President of Basketball Operations, was also on hand in Indianapolis to represent the 1992 Dream Team which captured gold in the Barcelona Summer Olympics. Bird, Pippen and Jordan were teammates on that squad that compiled an 8-0 record and won by an average margin of 43.8 points.
“This team was so good that it really didn’t matter who played,” recalled Bird. “I enjoyed watching Michael and Scottie get up and put pressure on the ball. Michael would get on their point guard and defend the heck out of him. Then, he’d spin him and here comes Scottie—long, lanky and quick. Other teams got to the point where they were just tossing the ball over their head and everyone played centerfield with a chance to pick off their passes.”
Some saw the gathering of the NBA’s greats in Barcelona that summer as a changing of the guard—figuratively and literally, as it turns out. While Bird’s Celtics and Magic’s Lakers had thrived in the 1980s, it was Jordan and Pippen’s Bulls who were on the verge of dominating the 1990s.
“I knew it was coming,” acknowledged Bird. “There was no question about it. 1992 was my last year in the NBA and I finished up in Barcelona. I knew it was time to get away and let these kids take over. They held it up pretty well.”
Pippen will always be remembered for his tenacious defense, among other things. Bird admitted Pippen was one of the toughest he ever faced on that end of the floor, saying: “He was one of the best. He and Michael Cooper gave me the most problems.”
Elected to Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 1998, Bird and Pippen shared a suite along with Oscar Robertson and others at Monday night’s NCAA championship game between Duke and Butler. They and other members of the Class of 2010 were honored during halftime and will meet again August 13 in Springfield, Mass.
“Scottie has been great for a long time,” said Bird. “I remember when he first came into the league. I played against him and as time progressed, he got better and better. The Hall of Fame is a very deserving award for him.”
Echoing those sentiments was Bulls Executive Vice President of Basketball Operations John Paxson, a teammate of Pippen’s for seven seasons.
“Scottie was not only a great player, but a great teammate as well,” said Paxson. “He was unselfish on the floor and encouraged his teammates to be aggressive and positive out there. Scottie was the type of guy that if you missed four or five shots, he wouldn't hesitate to give you the ball when you were open again. He did it because not only was it the right basketball play, but to show you his confidence in your ability.”
After retiring as a player, Paxson joined Phil Jackson’s coaching staff for one season, the 1995-96 campaign in which Jordan and Pippen’s Bulls won an NBA-best 72 games. He connected again with Pippen in the fall of 2003, when he signed the veteran to a two-year deal, giving the legend the opportunity to end his pro career where it began.
“Two things that made Scottie great were his defensive ability and his basketball smarts," noted Paxson. "He could guard multiple positions and used his length and footwork as well as any defender at his size to play the game. He had basketball smarts that people don't often talk about, but he understood the game at a very high level and took pressure off everyone by his presence on the court.”