A couple of security guards lead the way through the door, and Jordan follows. Michael! Michael! Michael! Michael! Pippen and his best friend, Grant, neatly edge around the crush. Perfect. The superstar in eclipse escapes again.
He is 15th in the league in scoring. (Michael Jordan is first.) He is 34th in the league in rebounding. (Jordan is not in the top 40, which is as low as the rankings go.) He is 12th in the league in assists per game. (Jordan is 23rd.) He is 15th in the league in steals per game. (Jordan is sixth.) He is 34th in the league in blocked shots per game. (Jordan is 17th.) He is 35th in the league in field goal percentage. (Jordan is 16th.) His height is 6'7". (Jordan's is 6'6".) His weight is 210 pounds. (Jordan's is 198.) His age is 26. (Jordan's is 29.) The numbers do not lie. Scottie Pippen has become a very, very good player. (Very close—heart, be still—to Jordan.)
"You think about it, Scottie Pippen might just be the second-best all-around player in the league," Bill Walton, the broadcaster and former NBA All-Star, says. "Who's better, outside of Michael? Who does more things? Karl Malone, maybe. Maybe not."
You think about it. Pippen has developed the entire late-night video-offer package of talents. He is tall enough and jumps high enough to move inside. He handles the ball well enough to be virtually a third guard, dribbling up the floor in the Bulls offense. He is a point forward, a position not listed in the old textbooks, the modern all-purpose basketball part. What do you want to do? Guard him high, and he will take you low. Guard him low, and he will take you high. Don't guard him for a moment? He is gone, rising over the basket and depositing the ball with a house-call efficiency that makes you remember Dr. Julius Erving himself.
As the Bulls have sailed along in this postchampionship season, looking for a long while as if they might win more games than any team in NBA history, he has been a second whirling dervish for opposing teams to consider. Jordan on one side of the court, Pippen on the other, interchangeable, lethal...how can any defense fully concentrate in either direction? The three honest workmen in the Bulls lineup—Grant, center Bill Cartwright and guard John Paxson—have been around to clean up after any mistakes. The old line about Jordan and the Jordanaires has been forgotten forever. Pippen now sings almost as many lead vocals as the headliner.
"The thing about Scottie is that he's still just scratching the surface of what he can be," Bulls general manager Jerry Krause says. "I think he'll be a better defensive player, although he's not bad now. I think he'll be a better shooter, although his shooting certainly has improved. You look at him...his tools just stun you. He is just now coming into that age range, the late 20's, early 30's, when players are at the top of their games."
"His role here has grown and grown," Bulls coach Phil Jackson says. "As a player starting out, you could see his possibilities. He could rebound yet still dribble the length of the court. He could post up. He had those slashing sorts of moves. You knew he could become a very good player, but you didn't know how good. He played a few times at guard in his first couple of seasons, bringing the ball up against teams with pressing guards, but mostly we used him at small forward.
"As more and more teams pressed, however, we decided we had to become more creative in our response. More and more we had to go to Michael to bring the ball up. We didn't want to do that. We came up with the thought of Scottie as a third ball advancer, of an offense that attacked at multiple points. From that position he started being able to take control, to make decisions. He became a bit of everything. I remember a game on the West Coast last year, early in the season. We were having some trouble. Scottie wasn't shooting well. I told him not to worry about his shooting, that it was beneficial to us but not necessary. I told him that he should be a facilitator more than a scorer. The game was against the Los Angeles Clippers. Scottie went out and had 13 points, 13 rebounds and 12 assists. That's what he can do. We went on to win seven in a row, and that sent us into the rest of the season."
The Bulls always had seemed to have nine tenths of a wonderful team. There always had been the thought that they needed to find that one missing piece. The more the '90-91 season evolved, the more that thought disappeared. Maybe a new piece wasn't needed. Maybe an old piece could simply grow to fill the hole. Maybe Pippen. The playoffs—and the eventual NBA championship—underlined how much he had grown. The pictures showed Jordan kissing the trophy at the end of a long, personal quest for a title, but perhaps no one felt happier or more vindicated than Pippen. This was his statement about how well he could play. Second-best player in the game? Maybe. This was his emergence.
"I needed a championship," he says. "I needed a chance to prove that I was a money ballplayer."