I was excited to see the names on the new Hall of Fame ballot today. Among the names on the ballot are slam-dunk Hall of Famers Karl Malone and Scottie Pippen. Of course, it didn't take long for the ignorant naysayers to bring back that tired old trope that Pippen "was nothing without Michael Jordan" and that he couldn't win without him.
Yes, there are still people (mostly those who didn't watch Pippen play all the time), who really believe that. That he was merely an above-average role player riding MJ's coattails. It makes me sick.
Pippen was amazing. I'm aware of the migraine game, the "1.8 seconds" game, and the fact that he never won a title without Jordan, but at the same time he was probably the best defender I've ever seen, an excellent ballhandler, a very good rebounder, and a good-but-not-great outside shooter. He was the original "point forward" prototype. If he scored 30 points a game, he'd be LeBron James, but he never quite became an elite scorer. He averaged 22.0 ppg the first year after Jordan's first retirement and nearly led the Bulls back to the promised land.
It's that "nearly" in the last sentence that makes people forget how good he was. Somehow if a guy can't do it on his own, he'll never get the credit he deserves. Never mind that Jordan didn't exactly win titles without Pippen; somehow Pippen loses points for not doing it on his own. It's not fair.
Fast forward to the present, when we look at the currently-injured Kobe Bryant. The big story when the Lakers won the finals last year was that Kobe "finally" won the big one without Shaq. Somehow Kobe didn't get credit for the first three (THREE!) titles because Shaq was his teammate, so once Kobe won title #4, it was the first one he really earned. I kinda feel bad for Pau Gasol, Lamar Odom and the rest of the Lakers. I guess they don't count.
What is this obsession with the "he can't win one by himself" thing? Charles Barkley, Karl Malone, Patrick Ewing - those guys never won with anyone (whether themselves or not). Pippen loses points because his six (SIX!) titles were earned when he happened to be teammates with The Greatest Player Who Ever Lived. Kobe only gets credit when his best teammate is Pau Gasol, rather than Shaquille O'Neal. Meanwhile Shaq, who also has four titles, managed to win three with Kobe as his sidekick and one with Dwyane Wade. He appears to be in good shape at winning #5 this summer, but he's no longer the top dog on his team. Will LeBron's title - if it comes this year - be diminished because Shaq is manning the middle? Of course not. I wonder if anyone will say that Shaq can't win one without LeBron. You know, because he'll only have five titles then.
You don't win titles by yourself anymore (not that anyone ever did). It's a 12-man team, five players at a time. If you're on the floor with four guys who stink, you're not going to do so well, even if you're the best player in the league. It's why Kevin Garnett never won with the T-Wolves and Allen Iverson never won with the Sixers.
Did Scottie Pippen get lucky that he was coached by Phil Jackson and Tex Winter? Was he lucky that the Sonics traded his draft rights to Chicago right before the team's ascent? Was he lucky that Michael Jordan wouldn't let Pippen and the rest of his teammates lose? Of course.
But Pippen wasn't just lucky. He was good. He was one of the greatest players who ever lived, and don't let anyone tell you otherwise.