The Last Dance was a light in the darkness for most of us last summer, providing a much-needed distraction from COVID updates, lockdown requirements, political campaigns, and Tiger Kings. But it wasn’t quite so pleasant for everyone.
Scottie Pippen really didn’t like how he was portrayed as Michael Jordan’s sidekick in the ten-part documentary. So much so, in fact, that he wrote a soon-to-be-released (Nov. 9) autobiography entitled “Unguarded” that was billed as sort of counterfactual to a handful of things laid out in The Last Dance.
Initially, Pippen promoted the book subtly, saying things like: “The Last Dance was really more about Michael Jordan than the Chicago Bulls. It was his story. This book is mine.” But the salaciousness increased from there, with comments like if you read his book, you’ll learn what it was like serving as “the real leader within the Bulls locker room.”
But it turns out all of that was just an appetizer for additional attempts to draw attention to his new book … and his new bourbon … and his new court … and his contest to let fans stay in his mansion (yes, that was a real thing). Pippen went on to call out his former head coach, Phil Jackson, for his “racial move” to give Toni Kukoc a rise in the league, and even came after Kevin Durant on social media.
The reason I’m bringing all that back up before getting to the new stuff is to illustrate what seems to be a coordinated marketing effort to thrust Pippen into the zeitgeist ahead of his book’s release on November 9th. I’m fine sharing this stuff, ostensibly promoting his book for free, because, yeah, it’s interesting! But let us at least do it with some self-awareness. This is all very one-sided (as was The Last Dance, in its own way) and Pippen has a clear incentive to be as titillating as possible right now.
Okay, enough throat-clearing. Hoooo boy … GQ’s latest excerpt from Pippen’s book is throwing some serious shade towards Michael Jordan and John Paxson. Let’s start with a little segment about the G.O.A.T. (bolded emphasis mine):
The final two episodes aired on May 17. Similar to the previous eight, they glorified Michael Jordan while not giving nearly enough praise to me and my proud teammates. Michael deserved a large portion of the blame. The producers had granted him editorial control of the final product. The doc couldn’t have been released otherwise. He was the leading man and the director.
Even in the second episode, which focused for a while on my difficult upbringing and unlikely path to the NBA, the narrative returned to MJ and his determination to win. I was nothing more than a prop. His “best teammate of all time,” he called me. He couldn’t have been more condescending if he tried.
On second thought, I could believe my eyes. I spent a lot of time around the man. I knew what made him tick. How naïve I was to expect anything else.
Each episode was the same: Michael on a pedestal, his teammates secondary, smaller, the message no different from when he referred to us back then as his “supporting cast.” From one season to the next, we received little or no credit whenever we won but the bulk of the criticism when we lost.
Now here I was, in my midfifties, seventeen years since my final game, watching us being demeaned once again. Living through it the first time was insulting enough.
And it goes on from there, with Pippen complaining that Jordan received $10 million for his role in the documentary, while Pippen and his teammates “didn’t earn a dime, another reminder of the pecking order from the old days.” Pippen also took aim directly at a nerve, implying that LeBron James was at least his equal and maybe his superior. Right or wrong (and he’s wrong), I think it’s fair to say he knew what he was doing.
Now, knowing what we know about Jordan, I’m sure Pippen has some legitimate grievances here. But also, with all due respect to a great player like Pippen … he’s not Michael Jordan. He wasn’t MJ on the court and he’s especially not MJ off the court (in terms of his sheer superstardom). So some of these complaints, especially about the money, sort of bounce off me. There’s more on Jordan in the article, including MJ reaching out to Pippen to clear the air, but I’ll save that for you to read in full.
There’s also a big segment from the book about John Paxson calling Pippen to apologize for how the organization treated him after his playing days, but Pippen was having none of it. Check out how absolutely ruthless this is (emphasis mine):
“John,” I said, “that is all fine and dandy, but you worked in the front office for the Bulls for almost twenty years. You had a chance to change that and you didn’t.”
He [Paxson] began to cry. Not knowing how to respond, I waited for him to stop. Why he was crying, I couldn’t be sure, and honestly, I didn’t care.
Before long, our chat was, mercifully, over.
LOL. Dude. That’s a little cold. But at least it feels more reasonable than some of his jabs at Jordan.
There is no question the Chicago Bulls’ previous organization did a pretty poor job connecting with past legends and building strong respect around the league. Turning the tide in this area is clearly one of the many goals for this new regime, which has already been emphasized by the recent Joakim Noah and Toni Kukoc nights held at the United Center.
Needless to say, Pippen’s effort to grab our attention is surely working, and his book is probably going to do quite well for it. And, hey, whatever, good for him! I hope he gets paid. I’m just not exactly sure how I feel seeing him paint such a beloved era in a different light. But I guess we should wait and see what he has to say in full once the book is finally released.
In the meantime, be sure to check out the rest of the segment at GQ.