Review by Budd Bailey
It doesn’t take Scottie Pippen long to make a point in his autobiography. It takes place on the cover, which may at least tie a record.
Scottie’s name is in big red letters, the print equivalent of “Pay Attention!” The title, “Unguarded,” is smaller and in white. It’s a similar story on the spine of the book. This is a man with something to say, and he wants to say it.
The autobiography has an interesting starting point. Pippen watched the ESPN documentary on the Chicago Bulls of the 1990s when it was shown a couple of years ago, and he was angry – angry enough to want to tell his side of the story.
It’s a little surprising that he was surprised. Michael Jordan supervised the project, and had a great deal of say on what actually appeared on the air. Now as we know, Jordan was one of the most competitive people on the planet, and it was unlikely that he would spread a great deal of the credit for the team’s six championships to others. So what was Pippen expecting?
Still, the relationship between Jordan and Pippen is what people will notice here. This was not a case of Batman and Robin fighting the bad guys in the NBA together. They weren’t the Lone Ranger and Tonto, the faithful sidekick. They were simply two great players who were thrown together on a team, and they helped each other win titles. Period. Think of businessmen helping the company during the day, and going their different ways at night.
It’s a little shocking just how distant that relationship was. Pippen didn’t talk to Jordan after his father was murdered, although Scottie now regrets that he didn’t make more of an effort. Pippen also didn’t like the way Jordan sometimes got special treatment, or at least the benefit of the doubt from everyone connected to the sport. While he may have a point, what did he expect? The biggest star shines the most light. Still, when Pippen went into the Basketball Hall of Fame, he asked Michael to present him in the ceremony … and Jordan did so.
That’s not the only bit of complaining that Pippen does in this book, which struck many readers as excessive. He’s still angry at the Bulls for not rewarding him quickly enough in contract negotiations. He’s upset that Chicago may have tried to trade him during his time with the Bulls. He’s angry at some of his media coverage, although he seems to have believed the stories about those trades – even if it’s never easy to be sure just how accurate trade stories can be. And, while quick to praise coach Phil Jackson for all he did for the Bulls of that time, he’s still upset about the 1994 playoff game when Jackson called a game-ending play for Toni Kukoc with the score tied. Pippen sat down to miss the final 1.8 seconds. The fact that Kukoc made the shot didn’t matter to Scottie.
This all gets in the way of the story, which is quite remarkable. Pippen grew up in a poor, huge family in Hamburg, Arkansas. That is in the southeast corner of the state, but it’s essentially in the middle of nowhere by basketball standards. He was nothing special as a high school basketball player, and barely caught on at the college level. But Scottie worked hard, developed all of his skills, and had a late growth spurt. He eventually landed at the University of Central Arkansas, where against some odds caught the attention of NBA scouts. Pippen’s stock rose as he went through the pre-draft workouts, and he went No. 5 overall and then went from Seattle to Chicago in a prearranged deal.
Pippen quickly became as good an all-around player as there was in the NBA at the time. He was a small forward who probably could play almost any position. Need someone to guard Magic Johnson? He could do it. How about someone smaller and quicker? No problem. It was unusual for an NBA team to be very successful without a star big man until the Bulls came along. No offense to players like Horace Grant and Bill Cartwright, but most didn’t qualify. Dennis Rodman probably was the closest thing to a star in that area, although he had a different definition of that word in mind with some of his antics. You could argue that the Warriors of recent years have followed the Bulls’ model.
Once the Bulls’ era is over, the book runs out of steam a bit. The remaining years of his career pass relatively quickly, and little is said about what he’s been doing since retirement. In other words, as we suspected, this could have been written 15 years ago. At times Pippen comes off here as an interesting person, willing to admit some mistakes and happy that things turned out well. But at other times, well, that boulder on his shoulder – it’s certainly not the size of a chip – gets in the way.
The usual test of an autobiography comes down to one question: Do you like the person more or less after reading this? “Unguarded” probably gives him a minus rating in that sense. Pippen provides some insights into a legendary team that Bulls’ fans will enjoy. Even so, they’ll do some headshaking along the way.
(Follow Budd on Twitter @WDX2BB)
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