SLAM: You guys had three years of slow advancement before you broke through, losing to Detroit each time, first in the Eastern Semis and then twice in the Eastern Finals, in ’89 and ’90. Did sharing those experiences lead to a deeper relationship and make you a better team?
SP: Oh, for sure. We went through all the battles together and had the same scars. We learned from that how to take care of business on the court, how to protect one another and ourselves, how to keep our heads up and what we needed to do to succeed. It was huge.
SLAM: Were you surprised or upset when the Pistons walked off the court without shaking hands after you finally beat them in the ’91 Eastern Finals?
SP: No, I wasn’t surprised. Personally, I didn’t really give a damn and I don’t to this day.
SLAM: Do you think it’s been overblown?
SP: No, I don’t. I thought it was just really revealing. It shows a different side to some individuals. Some of us can accept losing and be professional about it and some of us can’t and that was shown very clearly.
SLAM: Did you always take a lot of pride in your defense, or did you develop that specialty in the League?
SP: Always. I saw it as one of my niches. I wanted to utilize it to break into the NBA and give me an opportunity. You have to be different and that was what I could do. Lots of guys can score.
SLAM: You’re seeing firsthand how popular basketball is internationally. The 1992 Dream Team played a huge role in that. Did you all have any idea at the time of the impact you were having?
SP: We were the first professional team to be given the opportunity to play for the Gold Medal and we took advantage of it. That gave the world the opportunity to see probably some of the greatest players to ever play in the NBA and the response was incredible. So to some extent, we did realize how big of a deal it was.
Or it seemed like we did… but to look back 15 years later, I’d have to say no, we didn’t realize. The game has made huge strides and I’m really proud that I could be part of that Dream Team, which was a huge stepping-stone in the growth of the game internationally.
SLAM: In your first year in Portland, you guys had a 15-point lead over the Lakers in the fourth quarter of Game 7 of the Western Finals before they came back and won the first of their three-peat titles. Do you think about that game often?
SP: I always think about that. It’s probably the lowest point of my career. After a disappointing time in Houston, I went to another team, played a full season and had a lot of success. Winning a championship with another team probably would have been one of the highlights of my career. It would have established me as a winner in the game no matter where I was or who I was with. I wanted that so badly and it was right there for the taking, only to slip away.
SLAM: You were a non-scholarship player at a tiny school. Four years later you were a first-round Draft pick. How did you improve so much in such a short time—and was there a moment when it struck you that you could really be good at this game?
SP: After my freshman year, when I earned a scholarship. I always dreamed of being an NBA player and I always believed in myself. I always tried to work harder than anyone in the gym. I had a dream that I wanted to achieve and I never gave up on it. And when a door was cracked, I walked through it.
SLAM: Do you think the amount of work that goes into it is overlooked? People look at a guy like you and they see a great athlete and think you just run out and play.
SP: I do think it’s overlooked. People see the finished product. A guy like Michael Jordan obviously had goals to be a great player and these things don’t happen over night. You have to work very, very hard at it.
SLAM: What would you like your basketball epitaph to be? When someone thinks of you in 20 years, how would you like them to finish this sentence: “Scottie Pippen was…”
SP: I don’t want to write my own script, but I’d like to think I’ll be remembered as one of the greatest all-around players and one of the greatest defenders in the game. Look at my resume and it speaks for itself; I was a winner.