"He's an amazing guy to look at, man," Pippen says, his voice rising. "What does he have? Forty billion? I want to know: How can I make a billion? I just want one of them! What do I need to do? But I don't want to approach him like that. I don't want people coming up to me just for what I do, and I'm sure he doesn't. So I have to let that relationship grow a little bit. Like, win a championship, and then I can say, 'Tell me how I can make a billion dollars. Tell me how I can become a billionaire.' "
He cannot help himself. What he wants, what he needs, what he deserves—Pippen has never been able to keep all this contained. Throughout his career he has said and done things unimaginable for a superstar, vented spleen and spewed bile, displaying for all to see megadoses of pride, wrath, envy and avarice. That's four of the seven deadly sins; throw in his two out-of-wedlock children and you've got lust, too, five of the Big Seven in all. And that's not quite the resume corporate America seeks when it looks to sell underwear or a new long-distance carrier.
In 1997 Pippen publicly called Bulls vice president Jerry Krause a liar, and in his final season in Chicago he said that his other boss, team chairman Jerry Reinsdorf, could "go to hell" for suggesting to reporters that Pippen would sign a one-year deal. In 1995 Pippen threw a chair onto the court after being ejected from a game, and in 1994 he indulged in his most infamous fit of pique: Overwhelmed by his jealousy of the less-talented, better-paid Toni Kukoc, Pippen sat at the end of the bench, refusing to play the final 1.8 seconds of Game 3 of the Eastern Conference semifinals against the New York Knicks because Jackson had called for Kukoc to take the final shot.
"I was surprised that I did it," Pippen says. "I've got such a relationship with Phil, it was like a father and son fighting. I was sitting there, like, 'Spank me, then.' I was also thinking, Man, what did I just do? But by then it was too late."
The moment became a prime example of how modern players had no respect, of how sports was going to hell, but above all it became the most durable memory of Pip-pen's career. Bulls center Bill Cartwright, tears rolling down his face, blasted Pippen in the locker room afterward. Opponents, fans, editorial writers, coaches—all issued condemnations. Jordan, then playing baseball in Alabama, stated flatly that Chicago would have to unload Pippen. It is the one moment in his career that Pippen completely regrets. "It stays with me to this day," he says. "It's like I ran over a deer in my car. I won't forget about it."
Still, remembering is hardly understanding, and Pippen can no more explain the Kukoc incident than he can the mysterious migraine that laid him out during most of Game 7 of the 1990 Eastern Conference finals, against the Detroit Pistons. "It's just the nature in me" to childishly pull out of the most important game of the season, Pippen says, just some inexplicable flash in the brainpan that sends him into bouts of stubborn moodiness.
"He has a different emotional being from Michael," says John Bach, a former Bulls assistant who worked with Pippen for six years. "Scottie had to find out things the hard way. He always had to put his hand on the hot stove." Yet months, even years go by without such an incident, and in each lull Pippen's superb play prompts observers to declare that, finally, he has matured.
"My trainer, Chip Schaefer, says, 'Three hundred sixty-two days out of the year, Scottie Pippen goes along as a model citizen, and everything's working quite well for him, and he's in a great mood, but those other two or three days, he can be the downest, darkest person there possibly can be,' " Jackson says. "You don't know where it came from or what happened, but there's a dark side to him that rarely surfaces. And when it does, it draws attention to itself."
So when, in late September, Pippen teed off on Barkley, saying on ESPN that the Rockets' future Hall of Famer was "very selfish ... doesn't show the desire to want to win ... just doesn't show the dedication," Jackson chalked it up to one of Pip-pen's black days. But the two teammates had a relationship that had grown more and more testy, and Pippen was hardly blameless. Before last season Barkley had taken a $1.2 million cut in salary to clear cap room for the Rockets to acquire Pippen, and the two players had worked out together daily. Pippen led Houston in assists, but he never looked comfortable in the Rockets' stolid half-court offense, and during last season's first-round playoff debacle against the Lakers, Pippen publicly questioned Barkley's judgment after Barkley fouled Shaquille O'Neal with 28 seconds left in Game 1—even though Pippen later made a costly turnover. (O'Neal made one foul shot, and the Lakers eventually won the game by a point.) In the early summer Pippen began quietly campaigning to join Jackson in LA. In August, after Pippen and Barkley spent a week together in Hawaii on a Nike promotional trip, the news broke that Pippen had asked to be traded. Barkley returned to Houston and, claiming he had been blindsided, demanded that Pippen apologize to him, the other Rockets and their fans.
"I wouldn't give Charles Barkley an apology at gunpoint," Pippen said on ESPN on Sept. 29. "He can never expect an apology from me.... If anything, he owes me an apology for coming to play with his fat butt."