Scottie Pippen has become a topic of discussion over the last few days, following the release of his new autobiography, Unguarded. From his declaration that Michael Jordan “ruined basketball” to some of the more finite details of his rise to stardom, Pippen was as transparent as ever. The seven-time All-Star also had some intriguing stories to tell surrounding his battles with and against the Portland Trail Blazers over his 17-year career, many of which deserve to be highlighted.
The Drexler Duels
From 1989-90 to 1991-92, the Portland Trail Blazers won 179 regular season games, four victories shy of the Chicago Bulls for the NBA’s winningest club over that span.
It’s largely agreed upon that Clyde Drexler was the straw that stirred the drink for the Blazers’ success in that tenure above all else, something that allowed him to be an Olympian in the summer of 1992. Yet even so, the Blazers and the Olympics haven’t proven to be the best concoction — see Damian Lillard’s abdomen injury and Steve Smith’s production drop rapidly thereafter — despite gold medals to show for it. But for decades, some have theorized that Drexler was among those to fall deepest to Michael Jordan’s homicidally-competitive mentality, seeking to demoralize him during the Dream Team scrimmages.
Pippen had some interesting thoughts on Drexler’s mindset during the Olympics:
“Everyone found it refreshing to not have to be the man night after night. All they had to do was go out there and execute, and we would be up by 30 points before the first time-out. I’m exaggerating, obviously. Not by much.
Occasionally, certain individuals tried to do too much. The person who comes to mind is Clyde Drexler.
Clyde, still hurting from losing to the Bulls in the Finals, was out to prove he belonged on the same level as Michael. As if the six games the teams had just played hadn’t proven the exact opposite. Here is what someone should have told him:
“Clyde, you should feel fortunate. You are one of the best basketball players in the world. You’re just not Michael Jordan and that’s no crime. No one is.”
His energy was terrible. He always had his head down and acted as if Michael and I were his adversaries, not his teammates. Clyde didn’t fit in with the whole team, and it was a shame.”
Pippen shared his defensive strategy on Drexler, too, saying that he was a “right-handed penetrator who seldom dribbled to the left.” Drexler remained brilliant, averaging 24.8 points, 7.8 rebounds, 5.3 assists, 1.3 steals, and 1.0 blocks per game, but based on his percentages — 40.7 percent from the field, 3-of-20 from 3-point range, and 3.0 turnovers per game — it was clear that Pippen certainly made life more difficult than he was accustomed.
In diagnosing Drexler’s game, it’s clear that Pippen’s statement holds some truth. Drexler had limited instances in which he drove left, but when he did, he almost always relied on a lightning-quick spin move that most often put him back right and at the center of the basket for an easy score, or something similar to that, as seen on occasion here. At periods throughout this series, Drexler appeared to be the only player capable of creating his own score in the half-court, remarkable in that he was defended by both Jordan and Pippen, a duo with 19 combined All-Defensive Teams among the two of them.
Pippen’s Blazers career
Some wounds never heal, and for many Blazers’ fans, scars remain evident from that fateful night on June 4th, 2000, a West Finals Game Seven against the Los Angeles Lakers.
Pippen pinpointed the Blazers’ fundamental flaw, or lack thereof: leadership. He admitted that it should’ve been him taking on that role, though he wanted to fit in with the established talent. That lack of leadership reared its ugly head during the Blazers’ collapse, in which the six-time NBA champion recounted one sequence in which All-Star Rasheed Wallace outlawed his coach in a profanity-laced declaration, opting to give his teammate a shot instead of him:
During an earlier time-out, Dunleavy had drawn up a play to throw the ball inside to Rasheed. The Lakers couldn’t guard him in the block. He was almost as automatic as Shaq. Yet as we broke the huddle and walked onto the court, Rasheed explained he had a different play in mind.
“Smitty [Steve Smith], f— what that b— [Dunleavy] just said,” Rasheed told us: “I’m going to kick that b— [the ball] out to you, and you shoot the three.”
I was beside myself. I had been around the game a long time, and I figured I’d heard it all. Guess again, Pip. I’d never heard a player defy a coach so blatantly, and on such a big stage.
I should have said something to Rasheed before the ref blew the whistle and play resumed. I don’t know why I didn’t.”
He did, though, speak glowingly of Wallace later, calling him the “Kevin Durant of his day, offering up this assessment of him:
“Rasheed was the Kevin Durant of his day, able to get off a high-percentage shot anytime he wanted, with his left or right hand. He was one of the first bigs to run to the three-point line. He could make it from Steph Curry range.”
Thinking Blazers-related, this lines up with just about everyone’s thought process. Wallace never put up the gaudy numbers like that of his counterparts, but he earned Hall of Fame-caliber respect from those who defended him. Players are shy to cut him on those Start, Bench, Cut games; Kevin Garnett said he was one of the two players he was most hyped to play against. Vlade Divac once said that if he were starting a team, Rasheed Wallace would be his “first choice of anybody.” And that deserves a mic drop.
Once you get past the controversial takes that have dominated the headlines over the past few days, Pippen’s new autobiography proved to be a thrilling read, chronicling the former Blazer’s rise from a difficult upbringing to superstardom, and for that, it deserves a discussion.