What I've learned: Scottie Pippen
Among the many accolades of Scottie Pippen's Hall of Fame career, are six NBA championships with the Chicago Bulls and Olympic gold medals in 1992 (as part of the USA ‘Dream Team’) and in Atlanta in 1996. Alongside the likes of Michael Jordan and Dennis Rodman, Pippen played a pivotal role in one of the best defensive partnership in the history of the game. So much so, that in the Pippen’s 1996 Bulls team is considered one of basketball’s greatest ever assembled. Here he tells us a little bit about life, success and sneakers:
I was the youngest of 12. Being the youngest has its good and bad points; the upside is that you are protected by your family more, as they all want the best for you.
I wasn’t recruited by any colleges. I ended up going to the University of Central Arkansas, where I walked onto the basketball team as a freshman. After the first few months, I was starting more games than guys on actual basketball scholarships, and so I was eventually rewarded with one. That was hugely important to me as my family didn’t have a lot of money.
I grew five inches in my second year of college, and from there my basketball game took off. I started college as 6’1” point guard, so if you add another 5” to that and all of a sudden I became one of the most versatile players in the league. I think I ended up playing all five positions at some point.
I was actually drafted by Seattle, but they had an existing agreement in place that I was to be immediately traded to the Chicago Bulls. I was pretty happy with that because Michael Jordan — the greatest player to ever play the game — was already playing in Chicago.
I don’t miss playing. The game takes a lot out of you, and so you have to plan for the long term.
I used to enjoy the road trips. The ones that last up to two weeks can be gruelling — you’ve got to pack a lot of clothes! — but in that time you grow a tight bond with your teammates and share some special moments. They become like your extended family.
Finding clothes when you’re my size is tough, so instead I wore a lot of tailored suits. My shoes used to take up a lot of space in my luggage! When I was younger it was much harder to find clothes that fit, because I couldn’t afford [to have them tailored]. But when my career started to take off it was never something I had to think about,as the organisations and sponsors always took good care of me.
As a professional athlete, you know that your career isn’t going to last forever so you need to fully commit to all aspects of it if you’re going to get the best out of yourself. I always tried to make sure that my life was in order, so that I could go out there and perform at my peak.
I have three boys who all play basketball. Maybe one of them might want to take it to the next level. They still haven’t beaten their dad yet, though.
1996 was a great year. It was one of the best in my career — we won the championship and I won my second Olympic gold medal in Atlanta. It was a year where I felt that as a team the Bulls regained that same winning feeling that we had back in the early ’90s.
The game has changed tremendously. Players are known globally now, whereas in the ’90s only a couple of players would be household names outside the US. The game is now shown on a bigger stage and players are using it to their advantage to build their brand globally. With today’s players taking to social media it has helped younger fans feel connected with the game and that has opened it up to a bigger audience.
Having a shoe line designed for you is like a badge of honour. As a player, you embrace the opportunity, and it’s great seeing kids getting excited about it. Kids are a lot more into the shoe business than they were back in my day. It’s a much bigger game now.
There used to be restrictions on the shoes you could wear when I was playing, but now it’s pretty wide open. Players now try to promote their shoe line, to build their own personal brand. The shoes now are a status symbol.
This story was originally published in Esquire Middle East, January 2017.