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Out of the Shadow
Leigh Montville
February 24, 1992
After years of being eclipsed by his teammate Michael Jordan, the Chicago Bulls' Scottie Pippen has stepped into the limelight
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February 24, 1992

Out Of The Shadow

After years of being eclipsed by his teammate Michael Jordan, the Chicago Bulls' Scottie Pippen has stepped into the limelight

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He dresses on the fringe of the madness, but Scottie Pippen is not touched by it, not touched at all. He watches the video crews push at each other for space in the visitors' locker room at the Houston Summit, sees the reporters drop to one knee and scribble. There is a shaved head in the middle of that crowd—yes, there it is, the head of Michael Jordan, diamond sparkling in the left earlobe—and words, no doubt, are being spoken. The crowd chuckles. Something funny must have come from the shaved head. Scottie Pippen cannot hear.

He does his own interviews, but at a normal pace. A man shines a light, another asks a question. Pippen answers. Normal. The beat writers ask for an explanation of a certain play or basketball move, in this case a hook shot that Pippen missed late in the Chicago Bulls' 105-102 loss to the Houston Rockets. Pippen explains. He thought he was fouled. The talk no more than 10 feet away could be about anything. What do you think about AIDS, Michael? What do you think about the stock market? Where did you buy that shirt? A child or two stands at the edge of the crowd, staring in drop-dead awe. A linebacker for the New Orleans Saints has appeared, asking for Jordan's autograph on three $20 bills. Isn't that illegal? To sign money? The drummer for ZZ Top is holding two basketballs he would like signed. ZZ Top? The drummer is not interested in Scottie Pippen. He does not even look in Pippen's direction.

"We have a routine," Pippen says.

Yes?

"Horace Grant and I do this every night," he says. "We take our time. We just wait for Michael to get dressed. He goes out the door. Everybody rushes after him. We walk around the side. Perfect."

Pippen has seen all of this for so long, every basketball day for all five years of his professional career, that he can roll with it, use it. He does not fight it. Why even try? He plays on the same team as the most famous basketball player on the planet, a pop icon, a 29-year-old guy who already is described as the best there ever was. To play with the Bulls is to play in this considerable, logo-familiar shadow. In another situation, being selected for the U.S. Olympic team, being named a starter for the NBA All-Star team, stringing together important night-in and night-out numbers in every statistic that is kept, soaring through the climate-controlled air of various arenas, dunking the ball with flat-out abandon, all of which Pippen has done...in another situation this would draw the crowd. In this situation the crowd will always belong to someone else. Fact is fact. The potentate always will be the potentate, with commoners in line to present him gifts. Elvis always will be Elvis, no matter how well Jerry Lee Lewis might sing. Michael always will be Michael.

"Would you like to be him?" Pippen is asked.

"I'd like his bank account," Pippen says at first, loose with his reply. "I suppose I wouldn't mind being him for a day, or maybe a couple of days....

"No, I wouldn't ever want to be him," Pippen says after a moment of thought. "To have to stay in the room all day long, because so many people are waiting outside? To always have the feeling that someone is standing behind you, listening, just recording everything you say and do? No. I don't know how he does it. I can go out. I can walk around. People come up to me for autographs and to talk, but it's natural. They see Michael and they jump. People act as if they've seen a ghost. No, I wouldn't want to live like that."

The crowd now is starting to move. Jordan is dressed. Pippen is dressed. They are a pair of cutouts from the pages of GQ, elegant and chic. The money spent for their silk neckties alone would pay the ransom for at least one hostage in a local kidnapping. Pippen is wearing his glasses, little wire-rim jobs that give him a thoughtful, intelligent look. He has an unusual face, angular and long, a face from a gallery exhibit of cubist art. The glasses are the final touch. He could be an account executive behind a mahogany desk, advising a client to buy or sell or hang tough. He could be an expert witness at a hearing in the halls of Congress. He could be anyone associated with success.

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