Was Chicago Bulls star Scottie Pippen selfish?

Kobe Bryant, Michael Jordan, Chicago Bulls (Photo credit should read Vince Bucci/AFP via Getty Images)
Kobe Bryant, Michael Jordan, Chicago Bulls (Photo credit should read Vince Bucci/AFP via Getty Images) /

Among the hot topics to arise out of the first two episodes of the documentary series “The Last Dance,” chronicling the 1997-1998 Chicago Bulls and its pursuit of a sixth NBA championship title, is a question raised by Michael Jordan about Scottie Pippen’s character and commitment to the team.

Here’s a look at why Chicago Bulls star Michael Jordan is wrong for thinking his teammate Scottie Pippen was selfish.

In the second of 10 episodes of ESPN and Netflix’s “The Last Dance”, Jordan calls into question the M.O. of Pippen for delaying surgery until the early part of the 1997-1998 season. Around that time, Pippen was nursing a ruptured tendon in his ankle, which necessitated an operation to allow him to play again.

In the film, Jordan criticizes Pippen, saying his actions were selfish.

"“Scottie was wrong in that scenario,” Jordan said. “He could’ve gotten the surgery done as soon as the season was over and be ready for the season. What Scottie was trying to do was try to force management to change his contract. [Bulls General Manager] Jerry [Krause] wasn’t going to do that. So now I got to start the season knowing that Scottie wasn’t going to be around.”"

The relationship Jordan shared with Pippen wasn’t always strained as the documentary series shows. In the film, Jordan refers to Pippen as his “best teammate of all time.”

"“I would never be able to find another tandem, another support system, another partner in the game of basketball like Scottie Pippen,” Jordan said in the film. “He was a pleasure to play with.”"

The time Jordan spent without Pippen in the lineup during the 1997-1998 season seemingly gave him great appreciation for what he did for the team. It’s too bad the Bulls organization didn’t believe in Pippen enough to pay him fairly.

Pippen took issue with Krause and the Bulls organization for refusing to adjust his contract to ensure that he’s fairly compensated. He had signed a long-term deal with the team in 1991, thinking that job security and guaranteed pay trumped the idea of trying to negotiate terms for a shorter contract, which would have allowed him to earn a lot more money. In the film, Pippen spoke out against Krause and the Bulls organization for taking advantage of him.

"“I couldn’t afford to gamble myself getting injured and not being able to provide,” Pippen said in the film. “I needed to make sure that people in my corner were taken care of.”"

As Pippen neared the end of his deal, it became clear to him the Bulls organization wasn’t looking to negotiate the details of a contract to compensate him more fairly. In the film, it’s revealed the Bulls organization tried to shop Pippen around in trade talks after the 1996-1997 season only to balk at the offers.

The 1997-1998 season, which became aptly titled “The Last Dance,” ensued with Pippen growing noticeably unhappy with Krause and the Bulls organization.

Are Pippen’s concerns valid?

I think yes. Among the highest-earning Bulls stars during the 1997-1998 season Pippen ranked No. 6. That made him rank No. 122 in the NBA in salary.

By the powers afforded by the league’s current salary cap, Pippen was earning a salary equivalent percentage-wise to Andre Roberson of the Oklahoma City Thunder, which is appalling.

How is it possible the Bulls organization refused to renegotiate Pippen’s deal to make sure that he’s compensated fairly?

Phil Jackson doesn’t blame Pippen for wanting to negotiate a better deal. He described Pippen’s predicament with the Bulls organization as “embarrassing.”

"“It was embarrassing because he was maybe the No. 2 player in the NBA,” Jackson said in the film. “His value was immense.”"

As the film indicates, things got so heated that Pippen decided at one point to openly request a trade. In support of Pippen’s case, he was clearly underpaid given all he had done for the Bulls during the team’s pursuit of six NBA championship titles. After all, Jordan didn’t make it happen singlehandedly.

In the film, Michael Wilbon of The Washington Post gives praise to Pippen, saying he “was the underrated, under-appreciated Robin to Michael’s Batman.”

This isn’t to say that Pippen handled the situation in the most ideal way. Pippen’s decision placed a bit of an undue burden upon Jordan. At the time, he embraced the challenge. Jordan didn’t exactly have a choice, either.

This isn’t to say that Krause and the Bulls organization aren’t to blame. It’s quite the opposite in reality. It’s important not to dismiss Pippen’s concerns, which are valid. Pippen had a strong case, and he deserved to get paid fairly. There’s no way to justify the failings of the Bulls organization under the leadership of Krause.

Under Krause’s watch, the Bulls failed to keep Pippen around. He was ultimately one of the key reasons the dynasty had reigned. This wouldn’t be Krause’s only failure as GM. At the end of 1997-1998 season, the Bulls organization also saw the departure of Bulls Head Coach Phil Jackson.

dark. Next. 5 best moments from "The Last Dance" night one

Krause had communicated to Jackson at the outset of the year his intentions to relieve him of his duties regardless of how well the team performed. What’s interesting is Jackson helped lead the Bulls to its sixth NBA championship title by the season’s end. The rest is history as we know it.