As a young man, I didn’t play much basketball and didn’t follow it too closely. Now I play with fellow middle-aged schlubs every morning and have learned to appreciate it. (It’s zen has similarities to The Highest Form of Culture Ever Attained By Man: hockey. 5 guys trying to score, going hard to the net, chemistry really matters. But in hockey there can be two assists on every score, a goalie can save the day, and you get to hit people. Advantage: Hockey.)
Anywho…. today Scottie Pippen goes into the HOF. While I understood how integral he was to the championships, I did not realize he was also integral to Jordan being Jordan:
Not only could Pippen bring the ball into the frontcourt, which saved Jordan wear and tear, he could save Jordan the responsibility of guarding the other team’s best perimeter player.
Pippen was a member of the NBA’s first-team all-defensive squad during every championship season except 1990-91, when he was on the second team. But that might have been the season he made his biggest defensive contribution. When Phil Jackson had Pippen guard Magic Johnson all over the court, it tilted the 1991 NBA Finals in the Bulls’ favor and began their title spree.
That Pippen-Johnson matchup was as symbolic as it gets, two mold-breaking players going against each other as the league entered a new era. If Johnson was revolutionary as a 6-foot-9 point guard, Pippen was evolutionary as a ballhandling 6-8 forward who could actually defend a 6-9 point guard in addition to rebounding and starting fast breaks and draining 3-pointers.