Bulls-Knicks. Game 3 in the second round of the 1994 playoffs. Tied with 1.8 seconds left.
Scottie Pippen – Chicago’s best player – refused to enter the game.
Upset with Phil Jackson designing a play with Pippen as the in-bounder for Toni Kukoc, Pippen stayed on the bench. So, Jackson inserted Pete Myers to inbound, and Kukoc hit the game-winner. The ill-timed display of petulance stained Pippen’s reputation, starting with his teammates. Bill Cartwright cried while addressing Pippen in the locker room about quitting on the team. More widespread criticism followed.
Pippen in “The Last Dance” on ESPN:
It’s on of those incidents where I wish it never happened. But if I had a chance to do it over again, I probably wouldn’t change it.
Pippen’s frustration in the moment, while certainly unacceptable, was at least understandable. He fancied himself as the Bulls’ go-to player with Michael Jordan retired (though some of Pippen’s skill was distributing, and he could’ve applied it on the inbound pass). Pippen also had animosity toward Kukoc due to contract issues. The Bulls had blown a big lead to even let New York back in the game.
But if Pippen won’t admit he was wrong, it’s difficult to defend him with any of that nuance.
Sure, Pippen is proud, and it can be difficult to admit a mistake. Yet, even Isiah Thomas said he now regrets not shaking the Bulls’ hands, and many are still reluctant to forgive his poor sportsmanship.
Pippen deserves far less benefit of the doubt as long as he says – even in hindsight – he wouldn’t change his shameful behavior.