Yes, Michael Jordan is possibly the best player to ever play professional basketball, but he was not the most important player on his team. People admired the highlight dunks and fade-away jumpshots that Jordan routinely made, and they were spectacular. However, Pippen’s other-worldly athleticism and consistent teamwork made a significant amount of Jordan’s play’s possible. Before Pippen, Jordan broke scoring records and lost games. With him, Jordan tempered his scoring and became the champion that we remember. With his stellar defense and bonus scoring prowess, uber-athleticism, and various other intangibles, Pippen allowed Jordan to be the player he was for the team. Jordan was the best player, but Scottie Pippen was the most valuable player of all the Chicago Bulls.
Pippen was the consummate teammate, possibly the best teammate ever. He was one of the top 50 players in NBA history, despite playing second fiddle to possibly the best player in NBA history. Michael Jordan definitely lowered his shot attempts once Pippen arrived, but imagine what Pippen could have averaged without Jordan. Pippen averaged 17.9 points, right under 1 block, 2 steals, 5.2 assists, and 6.7 rebounds as a Bull. He was the second leading scorer behind Jordan and either led the team in steals or was second in steals behind Jordan in that category also. He was first or second in assists, rebounds, and blocks in almost every year of his career with Chicago. Scottie Pippen was a six time champion in the NBA, winning three consecutive titles twice. He was a seven time All-Star, with seven consecutive All-NBA appearances. He was an All-Star MVP in 1994. And, he led his team to the playoffs in 16 of his 17 years in the NBA. The Bulls reached the playoffs in each year of the 12 that he played in Chicago.
Pippen allowed Jordan to be the best player in NBA history by affording him rest on the defensive end and keeping Jordan in single coverage on the offensive end. Pippen was the key to the Bulls’ success.
Scottie Pippen always guarded the most versatile scorer and usually the best player on the opposing team. No matter what the marquee name was on the jersey, Pippen denied him the basketball. He wore down, point guard Isaiah Thomas and shooting guard John Starks in two separate Eastern Conference Finals. He slowed the 6’9″ assist machine Magic Johnson in the NBA Finals on the way to his first ring and blanketed the NBA’s all-time assist leader John Stockton for his 5th and 6th rings. He shut down high-scoring forwards Glen Rice and Jamal Mashburn. Pippen even defended power forwards like the high-flying Shawn Kemp and bruising, bullying Karl Malone. He could defend 4 of the 5 positions in any basketball game. He was one of the most versatile defenders in NBA history and his versatility was a product of Pippen’s athleticism. It is almost sacrilegious to say as a basketball fan, but Scottie Pippen was a better athlete than Michael Jordan. He was bigger. Pippen was 6’8″ with long wiry arms. Jordan was listed at 6’6″ but closer to 6’4″. He was stronger than MJ and faster from one end of the court to the other too. Pippen was also quicker laterally. Jordan was definitely more polished of an offensive player and more dominant as a scorer, but Pippen was more gifted than him as an athlete and a better defender. Being able to take the best scorers on defense actually allowed Jordan to save his energy for the offensive end of the court.
But, Pippen did his share on the offensive end too. He slashed his way to the rim relentlessly in the Bulls triangle offense. Since Jordan loved to catch the basketball at the free-throw line, it was imperative that there was a viable option to dump the ball to when he was double-teamed. The passes that reached Pippen in the lane ended in violent dunks. The passes to him on the perimeter ended in 3′s. He was one of the best finishers in the 90′s and he also averaged 6+ assists per game. The breath-taking break away dunks that Michael Jordan made during the 90′s, were often the direct result of a steal and pass from Pippen. He always seemed to be in the right place and to make the right play.
Michael Jordan never won a ring without Scottie Pippen. He was considered to be an arrogant, undisciplined scorer before Pippen became a Bull. After him, Jordan was labeled the best player ever. Before Scottie Pippen, the Chicago Bulls were a desperate playoff team. After him, they were World Champions. The one year that the Bulls played with out Michael Jordan in the 90′s, Pippen led the team to the Eastern Conference Finals before bowing out. His peripheral stats did not change even though his role did. He had basically the same scoring, assist, and rebounding averages facing a constant double team, without one of the best players in NBA history beside him. Michael Jordan was the best player to play in the National Basketball Association, but he was not the most important player on the team. Through suffocating defense, versatility on offense and defense, and ability to finish plays, Scottie Pippen was the most important Chicago Bull.