They called him “the dumb”, “the autistic”, “the sphinx”. Scottie Maurice Pippen (Arkansas, 1965) spent a decade of his life sharing costumes with Michael Jordan, one of the loudest athletes in sports history. Immersed in the media din surrounding MJ’s Chicago Bulls, Scottie knew how to keep quiet and chose to grow in the shade until he reached an immense sporting stature. For years, he taught lessons of good sense, humility and professionalism in a team that Jordan had imbued with his own arrogance and excess. Silence was one of the essential ingredients of his particular winning recipe. But these days, supporting actor Pippen has asked to speak and, for once, has dared to make noise, albeit through an impromptu spokesperson, ESPN journalist David Kaplan.

The trigger was The Last Dance, the sports documentary that everyone has seen. An audiovisual masterpiece conceived, of course, to the greater glory of Michael Jeffrey Jordan. After watching the last couple of chapters in the series, the dumb claims to have been “livid”, “dismayed” and “furious”. That is not the chronicle of a collective feat, it is not the tribute that a legendary team deserves and, above all, it is not the honest and plural story that was promised when they agreed to participate in the project. And Pippen is neither a monk nor a philosopher, but a simple man, of humble extraction, who managed to leave behind a catastrophic childhood to become one of the best basketball players of his generation, and is no longer willing to be followed rewriting the history of the sport at your expense.

Jordan and Pippen, demonstrating that the way of smiling says everything about a person. .

In art and in life, there are many secondary actors who end up being much more interesting than the headliners. Asterix, the bland and attributeless hero, has a lot to envy to the gluttonous, suspicious and well-intentioned Obelix. Sancho Panza is the true moral compass of Don Quixote and Yago, the most complex and polyhedral human being in Othello. The drunkard played by Dean Martin in Río Bravo has much more substance than the hero of a piece played by John Wayne and it is the characters of Sal Mineo and Natalie Wood, not James Dean, a portable cliché, who make that it is worth to see again Rebel without cause. Pippen had it all to be the protagonist of his own sports rhapsody. He was a formidable athlete, a tall forward with enormous physical exuberance, with very good technical foundations and a remarkable understanding of the game. But perhaps its best virtue was the instinctive ability to put all these qualities at the service of the team. And it was this predisposition to gregarious effort and that (relative) lack of ego that predisposed him to the role of secondary actor. For CBS sports writer Sam Quinn, “It’s not easy for a talented athlete from Pippen to resign himself to the role of eternal squire.” Despite everything, Quinn believes that Scottie “did not do anything wrong, because he had a magnificent career, with six NBA rings and seven participations in the game of the stars and, in addition, his introverted and somewhat melancholic character made him it would be comfortable to be relatively far from the focus. In a sense, “Arguably the dirty work Pippen did for Jordan on the court was Michael for Scottie off the court.”

However, Josh Planos, editor of the page FiveThirtyEight, believes that Pippen paid “too expensive” for this tendency to stay in the back room and for the alleged lack of charisma and ability to deal with the media. As Planos analyzed in a recent article, during the 1997-98 season, which focuses heavily on The Last Dance, Jordan received a salary of more than $ 33 million. Pippen was less than a tenth, 2.7 million, far from the figures of Dennis Rodman, Ron Harper and Toni Kukoc, who exceeded 4.8 million, and even behind the center Luc Longley, who exceeded the 3.1. According to Planos, “that Pippen, the best player in the squad after Jordan according to almost any objective performance indicator, earned almost two million dollars less than Harper and 400,000 less than a meritorious like Longley was, without a doubt, a flagrant injustice and a grievance. “

Scottie Pippen basketball player is already behind. He was undervalued in life, he lived with a gifted tyrant who conceived success as a projection of his ego, he suffered all that in silence and, even so, he managed to enjoy the experience, because all is well that ends well.

But the fact is that Pippen had already left behind that grievance. In the autumn of 1997, when the triumphant season that would lead to the conquest of the sixth ring began, he declared himself in absentia, trying to force a transfer to a team willing to pay him what he deserved. The matter was reportedly resolved with a behind-the-scenes deal with Jerry Krause, the Bulls’ manager. Pippen returned to the discipline of the team, recovered his recipe for silence and unconditional effort and was even decisive in the last game of the series, which he played injured. The following year he signed for the Houston Rockets. “He tried to prove to himself that he could be a champion without Jordan and failed,” Charles Barkley recalled these days with some cruelty, and he still competed for five more seasons before retiring from basketball at age 38 in 2004. He did it being able to boast a magnificent sports career, at the height of the best, and with a few million less in his current account, but, as Kanye West once said, at a certain level of income, the question is no longer It is how much money you have, but how many Ferraris you need in your garage to be happy.

Since retiring, Scottie has been kept well away from the spotlight. He seemed at peace with himself and with his legacy. He had a sporadic relationship with Jordan, correct but not too cordial, but the fact is that they had never been true friends and never lost respect in public. Those backgrounds make the fury that Pippen has expressed these days against his former partner and against The Last Dance difficult to understand. After all, what is the image that the documentary gives of Scottie? That of a big boy, a benign giant fiercely competitive on the court and sensible and calm off it. A magnificent team player and an absolutely negligible talent, author, among other feats, of what is considered one of the best mates in history, against the New York Knicks in 1994, running over the mountain of muscle that was Patrick Ewing. , an image that is repeated in several of the chapters.

Scottie Pippen with Croatian Toni Kucok in 1993, recently signed by the Chicago Bulls.

Scottie Pippen with Croatian Toni Kucok in 1993, recently signed by the Chicago Bulls. .

The series is much recreated in the agonistic effort that it meant for him to dispute limping that legendary final match in Salt Lake City, showing him as a fireproof gladiator. True, he is reproached, such as his fall pulse rate for ’97 or the day, during Jordan’s time playing baseball, when he refused to play the last seconds of a crucial game because Phil Jackson determined that the decisive shot was not played by him, but by Toni Kukoc. But at times it seems that, in the strict hierarchy of heroes, villains and fans that The Last Dance draws, Pippen is the second protagonist, light years from Jordan but above even Dennis Rodman and Phil Jackson. Partners such as Ron Harper, Horace Grant, Toni Kukoc, John Paxson or B.J. Armstrong have much stronger reasons to feel cornered and neglected. Even worse is the derogatory treatment received by rivals who have agreed to collaborate with the documentary such as Isiah Thomas, Gary Payton or Byron Russell, and cry out to heaven for the cruelty with which Jordan dispatches his boss, Jerry Krause, his alleged friend Charles Barkley or his comrade Scott Burrell, a free spirit punished harshly precisely for being one. And what to say about the unfair rapapolvo that the star gives to Doug Collins, the coach who surrendered to his talent and basically put the team at his feet and gave him the ball to do whatever he wanted with him, a surrender to the The logic of narcissistic individualism that Phil Jackson would end up correcting.

They are the real victims, and some have complained. But it is the angry complaint of Pippen, the eternal secondary, the silent and submissive squire, that has caught the most attention. What could have bothered you so far? According to Sam Quinn, it may have been “condescension.” The almost humorous paternalism with which a Jordan always delighted to meet refers to Pippen as “my best partner.” Phrases like “they are Scottie’s things”, “Scottie is like this” or “you have to love that guy”, spoken with the sarcastic smile of one of the great pop icons of the 20th century. Phrases that have perhaps been definitive thrusts to Pippen’s heart, sense of dignity and self-esteem.

Scottie Pippen basketball player is already behind. He was undervalued in life, he lived with a gifted tyrant who conceived success as a projection of his ego, he suffered all that in silence and, even so, he managed to enjoy the experience, because all is well that ends well. What he is not willing to tolerate is the patronizing gossip. That 22 years later, his nemesis, its leader and its nightmare, return to appropriate the collective successes again and reward him with an outrageous pat on the back. Perhaps it is all summed up in one of the scenes with the greatest semantic richness in The Last Dance, a costume conversation, once he won the title, in which Jordan seeks the complicity of Pippen making fun of poor Scott Burrell for the umpteenth time: “Scott , This is over. I hope I never see you again. If I meet you in Miami we will no longer be teammates and I will kick your ass. ” A mortified Burrell chooses to take this last offense as a joke, although his look of contained rage makes it very clear that he is not making the least of it. Pippen, sitting between the two of them, much closer to Burrell than Jordan, freezes the attempt at a smile. His gaze reads what would have been a perfect epitaph for the series and for one of the most triumphant but also most dysfunctional sports codependency relationships in history: “I really want to lose sight of you, Michael Jordan!”

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