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Two of a Kind

Michael Jordan / Scottie Pippen
The Bulls have had a lot to smile about during the Jordan-Pippen era.

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Hoop, 6/96: Go-two guys

Famous twosomes in modern civilization: Gehrig and Ruth, Burns and Allen, Bogey and Bacall, Simon and Garfunkel … Madonna and Rodman? OK, so not every duo can make beautiful music together, at least for an extended period.

But Michael and Scottie?

Book 'em. More and more, it appears that no such list of awesome twosomes would be complete without Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen, the only two players to have been part of each of Chicago's five championship teams to date.

Team members? Heck, these two guys are the pillars of the Bulls' dynasty. In fact, over the last two decades, no championship team has depended on two players more than the Bulls have on Jordan and Pippen. In the 1995-96 season, Jordan [a league-high 31.2 points per game] and Pippen [21.9] combined to average 50 percent of their team's points -- the highest rate ever for a champion during that span.

Of the top seven best percentages, six are owned by the Jordan-Pippen combo, and five of them were in championship seasons. The only outside tandem to invade the list was Houston's Clyde Drexler and Hakeem Olajuwon, who accounted for 47.5 percent of the Rockets' scoring average in the 1994-95 season.

While Jordan and Pippen have produced more than their share of Kodak moments, one game in particular stands out in the mind of Coach Phil Jackson. In February 1996, Jordan scored 44 and Pippen pitched in 40 in a victory against Indiana, just the ninth time in league history that two players on the same team each scored 40 or more points in the same game. In the fourth quarter, the two combined to score every one of their team's 27 points.

"That showed me something about the strength and the superiority of those two players," Jackson said. "We just ran our offense, and they had the initiative and the space to operate. We didn't run specific plays for them. They took it upon themselves, and their teammates found them."

The thing about Jordan and Pippen is, they don't know who will be The Man on a given night, only that it will be at least one of them.

"It's just the result of the situation," Jordan said. "We don't go into a game saying that we'll dominate. We let the game dictate what we do and elevate our games accordingly."

Jordan and Pippen have been known to have an off game on occasion, but it is very rare that both players have off nights in the same game, and therein lies the grim reality that opponents must face against the defending champions.

While there may be some argument that Pippen and Jordan rate as the best two players in the league today, it's safe to say there is no more gifted tandem on any one team.

"No one has scored better or easier than Michael Jordan," said Jackson "and I don't know if anyone the size of Scottie Pippen has had a better floor game outside of, say, [Larry] Bird or Magic [Johnson]."

Over the years, Jordan and Pippen routinely have been counted on to total 50-60 points on a game-to-game basis. For some teams, such a dependency on two players would be cause for some concern. Not for Chicago.

"As long as we keep it around 50 or 60, that's fine," Pippen said. "But when it comes to a game like the one against Indiana a few years ago, that's not how we want to play. We'd rather have a complete attack and get everybody involved. I have a lot of confidence that somebody such as Toni [Kukoc] will come around. His game is going to be up and down because Michael and I take the bulk of the shots."

No matter. Five times the Bulls have ridden the capes of Pippen and Jordan to a championship, and history suggests that they are the favorites to capture a sixth title even without a significant contribution from Kukoc or any other third party. Because if Jordan and Pippen have proven anything, it's that together, they're unbeatable.

Paul Ladewski is a writer for the Daily Southtown in Chicago and a contributor to Hoop.

This article also appears in the 1998 NBA Finals Commemorative Program.