One of the biggest talking points coming out of the first couple of episodes of ESPN’s The Last Dance documentary series centered around the great Scottie Pippen. Everybody knew him as the pivotal No. 2 guy that played alongside Michael Jordan during all six of the Chicago Bulls championships. However, what was revealed during the premiere of the miniseries is that Pippen was extremely underpaid.
As detailed in the second episode of The Last Dance, Scottie Pippen was on a seven-year deal worth $18 million dollars. By the time the 1997-98 season kicked in — the last year of his deal — the 6-foot-8 small forward was the sixth highest-paid player in the Bulls and shockingly, he ranked 122nd in the league in terms of salary. This was perhaps one of the biggest revelations about Pippen, but we’re pretty sure there are a lot of other things you may not know about the six-time NBA champ. Listed below are five of them.
An Unknown Freshman in College
By the time the Bulls got their hands on Pippen during the 1987 NBA Draft (via the Seattle SuperSonics), he was already a highly-promising prospect. However, this was not something people saw in him during his freshman year at the University of Central Arkansas.
In his first year in college, Pippen was an unknown player. He averaged just 4.3 points, 3.0 rebounds, and 0.7 assists in 20 games played. Needless to say, he did not play a significant role in his team that season, and based on that single year, few, if any could have known that this lanky 18-year-old freshman would go on to be the greatest No. 2 guy in NBA history.
All this changed however, in Pippen’s sophomore year. It’s as if he was a new man coming into the season. He put up 18.5 points and 9.2 rebounds in his second season. By the time he was a senior, Pippen averaged 23.6 points, 10.0 rebounds, and 4.3 assists, and in the process, established himself as one of the best college players entering the draft.
Pippen the Sonic
We all know that Jordan retired for the first time prior to the 1993-94 season. During this time, the Bulls did not know that he was going to make his triumphant comeback just one season later, so at that point the front office was looking for ways on how they could move forward without their superstar.
One of the things they considered is trading away Scottie Pippen. Reportedly, a deal was in the works to send a 28-year-old Pippen to the Sonics — ironically, the team that drafted him — in exchange for an up-and-coming Shawn Kemp. Perhaps the Bulls thought that Kemp would be an ideal player to build their new team around, and that Pippen was not cornerstone superstar material.
Thankfully, that deal did not push through. The Bulls decided to keep Pippen, and this decision served as one of the biggest motivators for MJ’s return. Jordan may have made his comeback anyway even if Chicago decided to ship off Pippen, but could Jordan have won another three-peat without his Robin?
A Chicago Reunion
As mentioned earlier, it is clear that the Bulls were underpaying Scottie Pippen. He made this abundantly clear himself through his acts of defiance against the team. Perhaps in the next few episodes, we will learn how Chicago tried to make it up to him somewhat by helping him sign that huge $62.7 million deal with the Houston Rockets in 1998.
Pippen played for the Rockets for just one season, and got traded to the Portland Trail Blazers where he would spend out the remaining four years of his deal. However, Pippen actually retired as a Bull. In 2003, Chicago signed a 38-year-old Pippen to a $10 million deal for two years. Former team general manager Jerry Krause was already out of the picture at that point, and in a move to try and amend a broken relationship, Chicago practically gifted Pippen with all that money.
Pippen ended up playing just 23 games in the 2003-04 campaign, averaging 5.9 points, 3.0 rebounds, and 2.2 assists in 17.9 minutes per game. He retired after that season, forgoing the final year of his deal — but not the salary he was owed, though.
Four years into his retirement, Pippen actually had an extremely brief stint playing in Europe. He suited up for Tropan Pojat in Finland for two games, as well as Sundsvall in Sweden for a single game. Yup, he played in a total of three games over there as a 42-year-old ex-NBA superstar. He didn’t too bad for himself, though, logging 21 points, 12 rebounds, six assists, and two steals in 30 minutes played in his third and final game. For his efforts, he was paid a cool $66,000 for that single-game appearance.
Pip: LeBron over MJ
Not everyone can say that they once played alongside one of the greatest ever in Michael Jordan, and Pippen is one of those select few. Amazingly, though, despite being witness to all the great things Jordan did in his prime, Pippen actually once said that in his mind, LeBron is “ahead” of MJ. Here is his exact quote from 2017 courtesy of Alysha Tsuji of USA Today Sports.
“The numbers don’t lie. He’s right there. He probably will never catch him in terms of MVP, but in terms of statistics, LeBron is right there,” he said on ESPN’s First Take. “And when you look across the board — not just scoring — check his assists, check his rebounds … he’s probably ahead of Jordan.”
Pippen did backtrack years later, saying that it’s unfair to compare these two given that they played in different eras, but unfortunately for him, the internet never forgets.