The Last Dance doesn’t just share insight into Michael Jordan as the Chicago Bulls’ talismanic figure in the ’90s, but other stars as well. Viewers get to know what inspired Phil Jackson as a coach, the kooky inner-workings of Dennis Rodman, as well as the behind-the-scenes drama with people like general manager, Phil Krause. It’s all to paint the Bulls as an organization that’s way more than a sports team.
However, in the latest two episodes, things take a darker turn when the doc dives into revealing the Chicago Bulls’ biggest coward: Scottie Pippen.
Jackson has always instilled a never-say-die attitude in his players from day one, and it’s why Jordan gave it his all for him. They both believed in going down fighting until the final whistle. So, when Jordan went to play baseball for the Birmingham Barons in ’94, Pippen finally got his time to lead. Jackson loved the job Pippen was doing as the “prime motivator” and “initiator,” as he averaged 22 points, 8.7 rebounds, 5.6 assists, 2.9 steals, and 0.8 blocks. In this ’93/94 season, Jackson and Pippen guided the Bulls to a 55-27 record but it was all tarnished in the second round of the playoffs against the New York Knicks.
The Bulls hosted the Knicks, but with 1.8 seconds left in Game 3, Pippen quit in a very insolent and childish moment, one which even Jordan said is hard to live down to this day. Down 2-0 in the series, the Bulls were fighting to stay alive and with the scores tied, Jackson designed a play after a timeout for newcomer Toni Kukoc to take the final shot. Kukoc had multiple game-winners that season and was known as a clutch finisher. But Pippen, designated to inbound because of his precision, was obstinate and refused to take the court.
“I felt like it was an insult coming from Phil,” Pippen confessed. “I was the most dangerous guy on our team, so why are you asking me to take the ball out?” It was a shocking moment, which cameras and commentators picked up on. Jackson recalled approaching Pippen to ask if he was in or out, and when “Pip” said he was out, Jackson realized his philosophy was broken. “I remember Phil said, ‘F–k him; Pete Myers, come on in,'” then-guard Steve Kerr admitted. It really stunned the team and everyone as Pippen sulked on the bench. “It was like a Twilight Zone moment,” then-Bulls forward Horace Grant said. Jackson and Kukoc emerged as heroes as Myers lofted a pass to Kukoc atop of the key and the Croatian nailed the shot for the win. However, the celebration was soured because the Bulls knew Pippen’s selfish actions almost destroyed the dream.
“I was obviously happy for making the shot,” Kukoc added, “But the whole situation, even going towards the locker, you see everybody’s pissed that things are not right.” Bill Cartwright, the team’s co-captain, actually gave an emotional post-game speech that led to him crying about Pippen quitting. Jordan called his former coach after the loss to express disappointment in Pippen. “It’s always going to come back to haunt him at some point in some conversation,” Jordan started. “Pip knows better than that.” To hear his teammates admit one of their figureheads displayed cowardice, it’s hard to take in because many held Pippen in mind as a fighter in the same league as Jordan.
Pippen would mend things with his squad, but they lost to the Knicks 4-3 and exited the playoffs. The sad thing is it doesn’t seem like Pippen got over his ego, though. “It’s one of those incidents where I wish it never happened,” he said, “but if I had a chance to do it over again I probably wouldn’t change it.” Notably, the episode didn’t reveal that Pippen fell out with Kukoc the play before for bringing traffic into the play but still, Jackson told him to be a team player and get over it. And after playing with Jordan for so long prior to his first retirement, every fan expected Pippen to do what was best for the team, especially if a trusty coach like Jackson was at the helm.
The Last Dance revealed the Chicago Bulls' biggest coward, and it has everything to do with a playoff incident at home.