Myers: Pippen was the Jack of all trades
When Pete Myers first crossed paths with Scottie Pippen, Myers was a junior at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock, while Pippen played for Central Arkansas just 20 minutes down the road.
One of Myers’ teammates grew up with Pippen in tiny Hamburg, Arkansas, population 3,000, and Pippen would occasionally join Myers’ group for pickup games in the summer. What they saw on the floor was a small taste of what was to come.
“He was the best player in the gym,” said Myers. “He may have been at an NAIA school, but his talent was superior to ours on a Division I team. He was a long athlete, the run and jump type. We were that type of team at Little Rock; we pressed all the time and played like UNLV did. Scottie couldn’t shoot all that well back then, but he had a very good skill level.”
Myers attempted to get Pippen to transfer and join him in Little Rock, but it didn’t work out. Little did he know, they would be teammates down the road at the next level.
Myers joined the Bulls for the 1986-87 season and the following summer, then General Manager Jerry Krause asked him for input on Pippen. Myers shared with him what he knew and on draft night, the team orchestrated a trade with Seattle to acquire Pippen. Along with the selection of Horace Grant later in the evening, the team’s core for the first three championships, with Michael Jordan on his way to becoming a seasoned NBA veteran, had been solidified.
“It was a shock to a lot of people,” said Myers of the reaction in Arkansas to Pippen’s rise to the NBA. “When you come from an NAIA school and get picked fifth in the draft, that’s huge. It’s hard to evaluate talent when you aren’t going against Duke, North Carolina or the other major schools with some of the best talent. It’s hard to get a true measurement.”
While Myers came in as a 23-year old rookie and played behind Jordan, the starter at small forward during Pippen’s first season was Brad Sellers. Training camp was much longer in those days—almost a month as opposed to less than a week now—so players had more of an opportunity to fight for a starting job.
“Over that period, I didn’t know when Doug [Collins, Pippen’s head coach for his first two seasons] was going to pull the trigger, but I knew then that Scottie was a better player,” said Myers of moving Pippen to the starting five.
In Pippen’s 79 games his first year, he didn’t start, averaging a modest 7.9 points per game in a reserve role. His minutes dramatically increased in his second season, from 20.9 as a rookie to 33.1 per game, as did his productivity (14.1 points, 6.1 rebounds, 3.5 assists and 1.9 steals per game).
Myers ultimately ended up joining the Spurs for the 1987-88 season, but he returned to the Bulls for the 1993-94 campaign, when he was handed the unenviable task of stepping into Michael Jordan’s starting shooting guard spot following his first retirement. One might think the pressure was enormous with such shoes to fill, but Myers said it was the opposite.
“It was easy on me,” Myers explained. “I came to a team that had just won three championships and there wasn’t a lot of pressure on us. The big star had left, and it was like, whatever you guys can do, the city is going to appreciate it.”
That season, the Bulls proved there was life without Jordan. Pippen led his team to a 55-27 regular season record and Game Seven of the Eastern Conference Semifinals. In his best individual season, he finished third in the NBA’s MVP voting and was named the All-Star Game’s MVP.
“It gave us a chance to see Scottie in a different light—not as the second fiddle guy, but the head guy,” recalled Myers. “I thought he was outstanding. I used to go home and watch the games when they’d come on at 2 in the morning. He was just unbelievable. I never viewed Scottie as a guy who needed to score hoops to feel good about himself. That wasn’t his motivation. He was always about wins and losses.”
Pippen’s ability to affect the game on both ends of the floor propelled the Bulls to exceed expectations that year, said Myers.
“Scottie was the anchorman,” he explained. “He was the Jack of all trades and did everything for us—he rebounded the ball, made plays, and had assists to Steve [Kerr] and those guys to make sure they felt like they belonged. Defensively, he guarded on the perimeter and the interior. He did everything imaginable, which made everyone else’s job kind of easy.”
It was at the end of that season, in Game Six of the 1994 Eastern Conference Semifinals as the Bulls faced the Knicks at the old Chicago Stadium, when Myers had perhaps his most notable assist. Most fans know it simply as the “Ewing Dunk.”
“My body was turned, not facing the rim, but facing the backcourt,” said Myers of receiving a pass on a fast break from B.J. Armstrong. “I could see Scottie out of the corner of my eye sprinting down the lane. When I caught it, I just flung it to him. The great thing about Scottie, Michael and Horace too, is that they had some of the best hands in the business. They’re like baseball gloves. It wasn’t a great pass at all, but he was able to, in rhythm and fluently, scoop it up and take off.”
The end result was a monstrous dunk over the seven-foot Ewing that sent him to the floor as Pippen hovered above him.
As great of a play as that was for Pippen and the Bulls, Myers doesn’t feel it was Pippen’s defining moment. He points back to when Pippen's 29 points, 11 rebounds, and four steals led the East to a 127-118 victory at the 1994 NBA All-Star Game in Minneapolis.
Pippen and his red Nikes dazzled a capacity crowd of 17,096 at the Target Center, earning unanimous selection by an 11-member media panel as the game's Most Valuable Player. Pippen's 9-for-15 shooting night included 5-of-9 accuracy from three-point range.
“For a few years, Scottie didn’t get to start on the All-Star team because of Larry Bird,” Myers noted. “With Jordan out of the game, he was representing the Bulls, along with B.J. Armstrong and Horace Grant. I remember thinking there was a chance he’d get MVP. I know it’s just the All-Star Game, but when you can stand out among your peers, that’s always a defining moment. At that moment, he saw himself, if not being the elite guy in the league, then as one of the top two or three for sure. It ignited him and he came back after the break more focused and in tune.”
As Pippen prepares to join the game’s greats in the Hall of Fame on Aug. 13, Myers said it’s a fitting end for a star who worked his way to the top.
“Sometimes with an elite star like Michael, it’s hard to notice the others,” said Myers of Pippen’s Bulls career. “But Chicago really recognized that this guy, although maybe not as good as Michael, wasn’t that far away. We were blessed to see two stars on this Bulls team. The credit goes to Scottie. This guy came in as a raw athlete with a decent skill level and turned himself into one of the elite players in the league. Now he is being recognized as one of the best. That’s the ultimate and it’s where every guy when they first start out is trying to go.”