Michael Jordan spoke out in defense of Scottie Pippen for his conduct in the Bulls’ 1994 series against the New York Knicks.
Pippen had put together a pretty amazing season for the Chicago Bulls in 1993-94. He stepped up fantastically to cover the Bulls’ immense loss, earning an All-NBA First Team nod.
Pippen had finished 3rd in MVP voting that year (it was a lopsided race that Hakeem Olajuwon won). He’d also staked his Defensive Player of the Year credentials, finishing 3rd after the Dream and the Admiral David Robinson.
Given that he was at the peak of his game, Pippen took it upon himself to lead the Bulls in the playoffs. But there were many reasons why Chicago was able to win 55 games, and it wasn’t solely Scottie.
Toni Kukoc had come over from Europe and played a valuable role as a stretch forward. The likes of Steve Kerr and Horace Grant had also come into their own.
Scottie Pippen was upset with Phil Jackson because he drew up the shot for Toni Kukoc
The New York Knicks went up against the Chicago Bulls without Michael Jordan for the first time since 1984. Patrick Ewing and co had homecourt advantage in the series, and they’d made it count in the first 2 games.
With the Bulls down 2-2 in the series, the scores tied at 102 with 1.8 seconds left, most people would be expecting any head coach to draw up a play for the team’s most valuable offensive player.
However, Phil Jackson had other ideas. He entrusted Toni Kukoc this role – a decision that did not sit well with Scottie:
“In that situation there was a lot of pressure. We were down 2-0 in the series; I wanted to be a threat. Whether I was taking the shot or not, I didn’t feel like I should be the one obligated to take the ball out.”
Pippen sat out of that fateful play as Kukoc got the ball and converted game-winner. He did apologize to his teammates for sulking so badly, but a year later, Michael Jordan stood up for it on live TV:
“I think that was a part of Scottie in his maturity in a sense of where he thought he was. He wanted that last-second shot. He thought he earned that respect because at the time that I was here, he was throwing the ball in. So when I left, it’s like we should switch places, he should take that shot.”