Scottie Pippen isn't shy in expressing what team he thinks is the greatest of all time. The future Hall of Famer actually played on two of the 10 greatest teams in NBA history, the 1992 and '96 Bulls. An integral part of all six Bulls championship teams in the '90s, Pippen explains why he stakes his claim for the '96 72-10 Bulls.
NBA.com: Are the 1995-96 Bulls the greatest of all time?
Pippen: Yes, I think the í96 Bulls are the greatest of all time. I think the 72-10 record speaks for itself and the fact that we were able to cap it off with a championship. What it boils down to is we had a dominant style, a dominant defense and we were a very good offensive team. It was the way we dominated our opponents that separated ourselves.
NBA.com: What was the greatest attribute on that team?
Pippen: I think a lot of people overlooked us. I feel that from the defensive standpoint, that was probably the strongest point of our team that year. I can recall a lot of games that we were out of and we used our defense to will us back into some games. We had great offense as well, but defensively we were able to do a lot of things, run a lot of defensive schemes, out on the basketball court that most teams probably wouldnít have the personnel to do, but we were able to do it. I just felt like that really separated us from any championship team. Our defense was the greatest attribute of that team. Thatís really where we were at our strongest. When Phil decided to go with our big guard lineup with myself, Ron and Michael, we had a huge size advantage from that standpoint and we were able to use that to our advantage. I mean spread the wingspans that we had across the court and it makes it very difficult for anybody to pass the ball or dribble around.
NBA.com: Among the greatest NBA teams of all time, which one would give the Bulls the most difficult matchup?
Pippen: I would probably say the í72 Lakers possibly. I can look at some of the great Celtics teams that were more or less in my era with McHale, Parish, Bird, Ainge, Dennis Johnson, those were great teams, and I think they could definitely give us a challenge. But I think from a speed standpoint and athleticism, we would have dominated them. That is sort of why I see that í96 Bulls team as being the greatest of all time because of the fact that we were probably in our prime and the athleticism was just overwhelming when you compare them to other teams in past eras.
NBA.com: What were your thoughts when the Bulls acquired Dennis Rodman, your former rival, and did they consult you before making the move?
Pippen: They consulted me and asked me would I be OK with the trade and bringing Dennis in, and I embraced it. I didnít have any bad feeling against Dennis even though he had knocked my face up pretty bad during our days playing against the Pistons. I had moved on from that and buried the hatchet that I was going to knock his ass out with. I was happy. I felt like he was giving us what we needed to get back to being a championship team. I sort of looked at it as Dennis can now come in and replace Horace. I became a better player. Michael was a better player. We picked up some better players in Kukoc and other guys. So I feel like Dennis was going to be a huge piece for us. We definitely felt like we were still at championship caliber even though it had been two seasons. We knew that it was just about us getting that chemistry back on the basketball court between me and Michael and that the rest would follow.
NBA.com: What kind of teammate was he?
Pippen: He was one of the greatest, nicest guys you would ever want to meet. I compare him as one of my greatest teammates, no complaints from him, just worked hard, very knowledgeable about the game. He does a lot of dirty stuff out on the court that he gets caught for, but there are a lot of things he does on the court that donít show up in the stat sheet. You know, holding guys off that allows us to drive to the basket and get a layup while heís got the guy pinned, just keeping the ball alive, things of that nature. Heís just a very smart player and I enjoyed playing with him and I am going to enjoy watching him go into the Hall of Fame.
NBA.com: How did the team keep him focused for the entire season?
Pippen: I think it says more about Dennis because at the end of the day, heís his own man and he can do whatever he decides. I think Dennis really put it on himself that he was going to behave and see how this worked out. I think after the first year, things were so good, we all bonded and gelled and enjoyed each other so much, it must made it easy for us having a guy like Dennis around. He came in after that first year and it was pretty easy after that. We sort of knew what to expect from him and we were willing to deal with any of his off the court antics, but come time to play basketball, he knew that we were relying on him. Again, I give a lot of credit to Dennis for coming and being ready after all the stuff that was being written and said about him when he left San Antonio. He really came to prove everybody wrong.
NBA.com: How important was it for the team to win 70 games?
Pippen: It was very important. Iíve said numerous amounts of times that 70 was never a part of our focus or something that was even on the radar for us, but we knew it and we downplayed it and we continued to avoid the questions around it until it got to the point where we felt like it was in reaching distance. Then it became very important for us When you get down to the last 10 games, it is not as big of a challenge if youíre trying to put forth all of your effort into your regular season just to win 70-something games and maybe get knocked out in the playoffs. Once it became a little bit more of a reality for us, I felt like that we did a really good job of focusing in on it and taking it one game at a time.
NBA.com: How motivated was Michael in training camp to re-establish dominance that season?
Pippen: I was very impressed. He came back with a huge chip on his shoulders. He came back much more physically strong. His conditioning wasnít quite up to par as you would expect, but he really pushed himself in training camp. That was the one thing that I saw, the motivation that he really pushed himself because he knew that he had a real challenge ahead of him, and when he pushed himself, everybody pushed each other.
NBA.com: The MJ-Pippen tandem was the greatest in the game as far as one-two punches when you played. Where do you think the tandem ranks all time?
Pippen: I canít go back and look at all the players, but I feel like we were probably the most dominant. Itís hard to take anything away from the great players, but I felt that me and Michael did it on both ends of the basketball court. If it wasnít offensively, we brought it defensively and itís just one way for us to get ourselves going every night and to take away from our opponents, that we had weapons that we could destroy you offensively or defensively. I donít know if there is another tandem that I could compare us with.
NBA.com: What was Michaelís greatest attribute as a teammate?
Pippen: I think it was his mental toughness, the ability to intimidate people, whether it was his teammates or an opponent, he always had that mental edge. He had that aura about himself that people want to feel wondering am I guarding Michael Jordan or is Michael Jordan guarding me? Just that gave us a huge advantage because people would see Michael as not an ordinary basketball player, but as a mega star. Not many would go out of their way to challenge him or they would sort of fold up and go into a little shell. He brought a lot of intangibles there that were helpful.
NBA.com: How valuable was the bench play to the teamís overall success?
Pippen: The bench play was extraordinary. You look back at the í95 season and a lot of those guys were getting mega minutes. Michael Jordan was out playing baseball. We were still winning, won 55 games I think, so those guys were all very content and happy with the way that things were going that year.
But when Michael came back, it caused a lot of them to take a backseat, maybe to get a little shell shocked to some degree, but as the season grew on, they got an opportunity to see what kind of guy Michael is. This sort of stigma how he carried himself, how the fans go crazy about him, how the fans just loved the Chicago Bulls.
We were like rock stars, so all these guys had never seen this before, they were loving it. I think from that standpoint, they found themselves really embracing that and saying, wow, this could be fun. They just did a good job of finding their roles. They knew that, hey, Iím not going to get the minutes I got a year ago, but my role is now more defined. I am going to get shots that I would probably have to work for a year ago. Now I am going to get set shots. Scottie and Michael are going to create the opportunities or weíre going to have better opportunities to stop John Stockton because Scottie and Michael can help me out, speaking of a guy like a Steve Kerr or Randy Brown.
Those guys just really came in that year and defined their roles tremendously. They knew what their strengths were and everybody played to their strength. If there was somebody we wanted to harass, I would get up and harass him in the backcourt or Randy Brown would get up and harass him or Michael or Ron, so we had a lot of bodies to throw out there. I think our bench play that year was probably the most amazing bench play that Iíve dealt with for a whole NBA season. I am talking no complaints about playing time. Guys were just totally professional and it just made that season perfect.
NBA.com: Toni Kukoc enjoyed one of his best seasons in the NBA, coming off the bench and earning NBA Sixth Man of the Year honors.
Pippen: It was great. Michael coming back and a lot of the guys had to take a bit of a backseat, but I felt that Toni was totally tremendous in it because people were still writing things about me and Toniís dislike of each other and now Michael coming back, and they threw in his dislike, but it was never like that. It was always love for Toni from the day he landed to the day that they drafted him and he has always been one of my favorite players to play with. Heís a guy who plays very unselfish basketball and his role coming off the bench for us that year was tremendous. We had a lot of games where he just took over and he played big and he had those games where he wasnít so good, but he was one of those guys, because we were such a good defensive team, he was able to find another niche in the game that made him happy and made the game fun for him. That was being able to defend. Iím sure that being a European player defense was never a first priority, but coming here and playing for Phil and the way that he enforced defending, it just made things that much better and it made Toni a much better player
NBA.com: The adoration you received from the fans was unlike anything you experienced, right?
Pippen: I have never seen anything like that from a basketball standpoint. I was with Michael pretty much his whole career and weíve had numerous amounts of fans waiting for us after the game and even before we smelled a championship, but the magnitude that we went through in í96 was shocking because we had everybodyís fanbase sort of magnified by five. You had Dennisí fanbase, you had Michaelís fanbase, you got my fan base, whoever loves the Bulls. Everywhere we went before and after the game, weíre running into three or four thousand people standing outside the arena or outside our hotel. I think everybody saw how special our team was and everyone was tying to get a piece of us, whether it was just getting a photo or some type of memorabilia. They just wanted to be a part of it or say they saw the team. That was truly the closest Iíll ever come to being a rock star.