Grant: Pippen had the hunger to be great
"He loved the game and the team," said Grant of Pippen. "He was unselfish, but unselfish to a fault. We knew when he had the ball he was going to make a play and score or find the open guy. We had some great times."
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Horace Grant said he knew his buddy was destined for greatness. And if anyone really knew, it was Horace, who teamed with Scottie Pippen when they came to the Bulls together in the 1987 draft like Butch and Sundance, Damon and Pythias.
It was all about trust, loyalty and teamwork.
"We came to that first press conference when the Bulls were introducing us and we just hit it off," said Grant, whose friendship with Pippen became something of a legend around the Bulls virtually to the point of the duo doing everything together and even dressing alike.
"Both rookies, from small towns. It became sort of a security thing," says Grant. "Not because of danger, but we needed a friend. It wasn't a young team and you had Michael and he was such a big star already, so we just came together.
"Yeah, we always shopped together, too (they bought identical dogs, houses and cars and compared notes on what to wear to the games)," recalled Grant. "We'd go to Rochester Big and Tall and get the same clothes. But different colors."
Now you can color Grant proud as he'll see his buddy Pippen reach the ultimate in the sport when Pippen is inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame in Springfield, Mass. Friday.
"Here we are rookies coming in to play against the best players and we have one of the best on our team and you don't know what to expect," said Grant, who now lives quietly in Northern California where he trains dogs and horses and does some basketball tutoring. "You make a lot of mistakes and you are not used to the criticisms you get at such a young age. So you need, in a way, a shoulder to cry on, someone to vent to and offer advice.
"But one thing right away about Scottie," said Grant. "He wanted to be one of the best at his position and felt he would be. He had that hunger. You knew he was going to be a great player even at that time because he was so sure and you saw the work he put in. The sky was the limit with Scottie because he was so gifted as a basketball player."
And Grant said everyone could see what he and his teammates did in the 1991 Finals when the Bulls won their first championship by defeating the Los Angeles Lakers.
"If I had a vote in that first championship for MVP it would have been Scottie," said Grant. "He brought his whole game and everyone could see. The way he played Magic (Johnson) and made him turn and turn and turn and made him work like that was the difference, especially after we lost the first game. And he averaged more than 20 points. I think he was our leading scorer when we won."
In fact, Pippen did score 32 points in the clinching Game 5 to lead the Bulls in scoring. He also led the team in rebounding in the series, and that Game 5 clincher was one of the truly amazing, if typically overlooked — given Pippen's history — great Finals games. Pippen also led both teams with 13 rebounds, had five steals and was 11 of 12 in free throws in breaking down the Lakers' defense. And with Jordan he shredded the Lakers' offense in Game 4 with an aggressive trap that held the Lakers to about 37 percent shooting in a rout.
Pippen, obviously, wasn't someone who went unnoticed with a series of controversies that Grant shared with him in long talks.
"Things happen, people make mistakes and I believe if Scottie didn't make some of them he wouldn't be the person he is now who matured," said Grant. "He learned from mistakes and grew up. He came to understand to be in the position he was in you cannot take nights off. And it wasn't easy being Michael Jordan's sidekick. He learned and did the things needed to be done to be successful.
"After I left the Bulls (for Orlando in 1994), I'd look up and see some of the controversies and think, 'Wow.' But other guys could not go through that and he grew up in the league," said Grant.
So the favorite?
Grant said it was that 1993-94 season.
"When Michael retired, Scottie became our leader and we were one phantom foul from playing Indiana in the Eastern Conference finals," said Grant. "And we beat them that season (4-1, including the last meeting in Indianapolis). That season showed his leadership and that he could carry a team. He had to step into that role and he did, and we were successful, more than anyone thought we ever could be. Everyone wrote us off, but we knew the kind of players we had and we knew how good Scottie was. I wasn't surprised at all."
No one ever will overshadow Michael Jordan and his brilliance that led to six championships. But it was the additions of Pippen and Grant that established the Bulls as contenders and it was Pippen's willingness to fill in every left over blank that became the missing puzzle piece for the Bulls' success.
Pippen defended; he passed; he shot when necessary, developing a reliable three pointer. And whether planned or not he took on his share of the pressure of success with his various controversies and survived and endured.
"He was the most popular teammate we had," says Grant. "You could laugh with him and joke and he wasn't the kind of guy who got mad. He was a fun teammate, fun to be around and always cared about everyone. If you had a problem, you could always talk it out with him. And he loved the game and the team. He was unselfish, but unselfish to a fault. We knew when he had the ball he was going to make a play and score or find the open guy. We had some great times."