It’s perhaps the darkest smudge on Scottie Pippen‘s otherwise illustrious career. At the end of Game 3 of the 1994 Eastern Conference Semifinals against the New York Knicks, with the score tied at 102-102 thanks to Patrick Ewing, Bulls coach Phil Jackson called on Toni Kukoc to take the final shot. A nonplussed Pippen refused to go back in the game, and Kukoc proceeded to knock down the game-winning shot and save Chicago from a 3-0 series deficit.
It was the Bulls’ first season after Michael Jordan’s retirement, and they would eventually go on to lose that series to the Knicks in seven games. Even if you don’t take into account the fact that Kukoc made that shot, Jackson clearly made the right call in the moment. Pippen had been struggling that game, while Kukoc had the hot hand.
Kukoc and teammate Bill Wennington recently discussed the incident at a Thuzio Executive Club event which, according to their website, “provides members and their guests with the most memorable business events of the year through sophisticated sports storytelling.” According to Kukoc and Wennington, the media not surprisingly made more out of it than there really was. To hear them tell it, it was the elder statesman Bill Cartwright who came into the locker after the game and proceeded to scold Pippen mercilessly until he apologized to the rest of the team.
As far as they were concerned, everything was resolved, but it’s something that will continue to haunt his legacy in the eyes of some (Bill Simmons devoted no small amount of time to the incident in his 700-page Book of Basketball). We suppose there’s a lesson in there somewhere about team-building that WASPy upper crust executives can take back with them to their deep mahogany board rooms.