Michael Jordan had the Last Dance, but now it appears Scottie Pippen is going to make sure he has at least a word with Chicago Bulls Nation about his experience during the dynasty.
In an interview with GQ’s Tyler Tynes (which is entitled “Scottie Pippen Has Something to Say,” the Hall-of-Famer was asked about the infamous 1994 playoff game against the New York Knicks.
It’s the game that saw Pippen take himself out for the last 1.8 seconds of the contest after Bulls head coach Phil Jackson designed a play that had the Hall-of-Famer as the inbounds man.
The play was designed to go to another Hall-of-Famer, Toni Kukoc, a Croatian-born player who was one of the first European players to make an impact in the NBA. Tynes asked Pippen why he took himself out of the game, and this was the latter’s response:
I don’t think it’s a mystery, you need to read between the fine lines. It was my first year playing without Michael Jordan, why wouldn’t I be taking that last shot? I been through all the ups and downs, the battles with the Pistons and now you gonna insult me and tell me to take it out? I thought it was a pretty low blow. I felt like it was an opportunity to give [Kukoc] a rise. It was a racial move to give him a rise. After all I’ve been through with this organization, now you’re gonna tell me to take the ball out and throw it to Toni Kukoc? You’re insulting me. That’s how I felt.
Pippen and Michael Jordan had issues with Kukoc dating back before he’d left Croatia to join the Bulls. The tension was related to then-general-manager Jerry Krause’s affinity for Kukoc, and the two Bulls’ stars distaste for the former. This dynamic is a pretty intriguing aspect of the Last Dance documentary.
Kukoc was more or less caught in the crossfire, as it appears is the case again with this situation.
While Pippen doesn’t directly mention Jackson in his first answer about the infamous moment, Tynes asks him to specifically clarify if he was referring to the legendary coach and it was made clear.
Yeah. Go back and look at it and you can see it. It was my team. Why are you telling me to take the ball out on a game-tying shot. It wasn’t even a game-winning shot. Why are you trying to let him be the hero? He ain’t the leader of this team. No. You trying to make him a hero to hit that shot. If he misses, he playing wit’ house money. He playing what I done earned here. Okay? I have been earning this for Michael Jordan for years and he gets the last shot. And I’m supposed to step inside and let Kukoc get in there? [Scoffs.] Do you understand English? Oh. Okay. Exactly.
The Race Factor Was Mentioned Amongst the Fanbase Back in 1994
It’s impossible to say if the talk of race being a factor was prevalent with the players or even the media. However, as someone who was born and raised in Chicago, and who grew up as a diehard Bulls fan privileged enough to experience the entire dynasty, I can tell you it was at the very least fuel for barbershop conversations.
You’d hear people say, “you know they only did that because Toni is white, right?” That doesn’t validate Pippen’s accusations, but it does tell you that perception wasn’t exclusive to him.
It Was the Right Call
While I’ve always understood Pippen’s frustrations with the way the play was designed, I’ve always maintained Jackson made the right call. I watched the game live that day, and recall Pippen having issues beating the late Anthony Mason off the dribble two possessions prior to the final shot.
Patrick Ewing had just made a sweeping hook shot in the lane over Bill Cartwright to tie the game at 102, and the Bulls foolishly inbounded the ball to Pippen before Jackson vehemently motioned for a timeout to give his team time to set up a play to win the game. Pippen didn’t like the call, and chose not to go on the floor, and Kukoc helped cement his legacy by draining the shot.
Kukoc was a bigger and a better pure shooter, though Pippen was the superior overall player. While asking Pippen to take the ball out was a tough pill to swallow, asking out of the game is even more difficult to accept.
Here is a look at the final moments of the game:
The Bulls still lost the series after a controversial foul call by Hue Hollins
Racial factors or not, for that moment, Kukoc was the right guy to shoot the ball and win the game.
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