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Now You See Him
Bruce Newman
November 30, 1987
The Bulls' Scottie Pippen has leaped from obscurity to become a top NBA rookie
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November 30, 1987

Now You See Him

The Bulls' Scottie Pippen has leaped from obscurity to become a top NBA rookie

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It was still several hours before the Chicago Bulls were to play an exhibition game in Las Vegas, and in his room at Caesars Palace, rookie swingman Scottie Pippen positioned his 6'7" self squarely in the middle of the circular bed, then looked up at the mirror on the ceiling to see if it was really him up there, so high and mighty. Only a month earlier, Pippen had been spending some of his time in his hometown of Hamburg, Ark., which lies halfway between Mist and Old Milo—you can look it up—as the traveling salesman flies. Now here he was, unknown, untested and under his first mirrored ceiling, about to find out if it was possible to fit a square peg into a round bed. "I tried to take my picture lying in that bed," Pippen says sorrowfully, "but the flash made my face disappear."

A clear image of Pippen—who he is and where he came from—is just beginning to develop before our eyes, like a photograph from an instant camera. Pippen was an indistinct blur when he was chosen fifth in the NBA draft last June. He was so underexposed that when his name was announced, Reggie Williams of Georgetown, who was picked fourth, said, "I never even heard of Scottie Pippen until two weeks ago."

Basketball fans may soon be hearing about him regularly. The Bulls have purposely tried not to rush Pippen's development, though through last weekend he had played an average of 21.5 minutes in Chicago's first nine games. His scoring average was 8.6, and he was showing some good defensive moves, averaging nearly two steals per game. (Last season's leader, Alvin Robertson of San Antonio, averaged 3.2.) Pippen has spent most of his time subbing for Brad Sellers, who may be the league's first 7-foot small forward, but coach Doug Collins has also used Pippen, who did it all at the University of Central Arkansas, at both guard spots.

"It'll take him a while to get the Central Arkansas out of him," says Cotton Fitzsimmons, director of player personnel for the Phoenix Suns, "but he's going to be a very, very good player."

The transition from the NAIA competition at Central Arkansas—which Bulls assistant general manager Billy McKinney likens to "amateur night at the Y"—to the pros probably should have intimidated Pippen, especially considering that the first NBA game he ever saw in person was one he played in. But so far nothing he has seen seems to have left him overawed.

Jerry Krause, the Bulls vice-president for basketball operations, says Pippen is "not afraid of anybody in the NBA because he doesn't know who most of these guys are." In fact, when Krause complimented Pippen on the defensive job he had just done in one of last spring's college all-star games, Pippen seemed blas�. "I guess guys who play on national TV get a lot of publicity," he says. "I was expecting more from them."

Pippen was similarly unmoved after being assigned to guard Michael Jordan in one of his first practices with the Bulls. "He's a good player and all," Pippen said when the workout was over and he had done just fine, "but I didn't feel there was anything he could do to me that he hadn't already done to somebody else."

Pippen isn't doing anything now that he hasn't already done to somebody else, but he did it in such obscurity that hardly anybody ever knew. The one person who did was Marty Blake, the NBA's director of scouting. During Pippen's senior season at Central Arkansas, Blake tried getting the word out. "I advised as many teams as I could to go see him play," Blake says, "but when you're dealing with a player they've never heard of from a small college, the trick is to make people believe that he's bona fide. Some believe, and some don't."

When Blake called Chicago last February, Pippen was "just another name on a list to me," Krause says. But Blake had discovered forward Dennis Rodman performing in anonymity at Southeastern Oklahoma State, another NAIA school, and Rodman turned out to be one of the top rookies in the league last year, playing for Detroit. Though scouts—even ones as successful as Blake—are forever claiming to have discovered the next Magic Johnson playing in a church league in the Amish country, Krause was impressed. He thought he heard an edge in Blake's voice and decided to dispatch McKinney to Conway, where Central Arkansas is located, to watch Pippen go against Henderson State.

Officals at Central Arkansas had been told that Blake was urging all NBA teams to see Pippen play that night. "The people in Conway were expecting this horde of people from the pros," McKinney says. But the invasion never materialized; McKinney was the only scout to show up.

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