In an interview with GQ published on June 24, Scottie Pippen called Phil Jackson’s decision to give Toni Kukoč the final shot in a 1994 playoff game a “racial move.”
On Monday, the former Chicago Bulls forward doubled down on that claim in an appearance on the Dan Patrick Show, responding yes when asked directly by Patrick if Jackson was/is a racist.
“If you knew Scottie Pippen had been with the Bulls from 1987, battled through the Pistons and every other team that we had to get to those three championships, wouldn’t you give Scottie Pippen one opportunity to get a last-second shot without Michael Jordan?” Pippen said to Patrick. “Like, one year without Michael Jordan. Can I get one shot? Like, I’m doing all the dirty work.”
Pippen is on the promotional tour for his newly-released bourbon and soon-to-be-released memoir, which hits shelves this November.
Over the course of that tour, he has multiple times addressed the play Jackson drew up for Kukoč with 1.8 seconds to play in Game 3 of the 1994 Eastern Conference semifinals against the New York Knicks. The play called for Pippen to inbound the ball to Kukoč for the final shot (which Kukoč eventually made to win the game), but Pippen refused to enter the game in protest.
As sports historian Jack Silverstein pointed out on Twitter, Jackson designed the exact play for Kukoč during a game against the Indiana Pacers earlier in that season. Both times, it achieved the desired result — though in the playoff contest, Kukoč received the inbounds pass from Pete Myers.
But Pippen is clearly still rankled to have not received the high-leverage opportunity in a season he finished third in MVP voting and led the Bulls to a 55-27 record as Michael Jordan stepped away to pursue a career in baseball.
After being asked by Patrick what he specifically meant by “racial move,” Pippen expounded.
“Why would Toni, who was a rookie, get the last-second shot, and you put me out of bounds? That’s what I mean racial,” he said. “Like, that was Scottie Pippen’s team. Scottie Pippen was on pace to be an MVP that year, right?
“Why would you put him (Pippen) in a position not to be successful? Why wouldn’t you put him in a position to succeed? Michael Jordan is not there, so who’s next in line for you?”
Pippen went on to say he has “no problem” with his comments being interpreted as him calling Jackson a racist.
“Uh, yeah,” Pippen said when asked if he believes Jackson was, or is, a racist. He then cited as an example Jackson leaving his station as head coach of the Los Angeles Lakers in 2004, then writing a tell-all book from the team’s 2003-04 season before returning. The book stirred controversy partly because of its sharp criticism of Kobe Bryant.
“I think he tried to expose Kobe in a way that he shouldn’t have,” Pippen said.
Challenged by Patrick that disloyalty doesn’t necessarily equate to racism, Pippen responded: “That’s your way of putting it out, and I have my way. I was in the locker room with him. I was in practices with him. You’re looking from afar.”
Presented with the counterpoint that Jackson drew up a game-winning play for Steve Kerr against the Utah Jazz during the 1997 NBA Finals without complaint from Jordan, Pippen contended that Jordan only vocally agreed to cede the look to Kerr in the timeout huddle because video cameras were present.
“You know all those cameras that was sitting in that huddle, who they was working for?” Pippen said. “You know who Michael was speaking to when he said that (for Kerr to be ready to take the final shot), right? That was planned. That was speaking to the camera. That wasn’t speaking out of what we’re gonna have to do, what the play is gonna be… That was (Jordan) building his own documentary because he knew he was controlling the cameras.”
It's clear Pippen has resentments yet unresolved from his time with the Bulls. In airing them out, he's been plenty candid of late.