Beautiful morning, cool and dry, sunlight crashing down on the
street outside. A waiter rushes forward every six minutes to
check on water and coffee, and anything else, sir? Everyone here
in Portland's oppressively quiet Heathman Hotel gives off that
fresh scent of boutique soap and the rustle of expensive fibers.
Everyone here has money to burn. Scottie Pippen sits over his
breakfast by a window. A thin wire snakes down from his left
ear, a wire that, near his mouth, expands into a tiny
microchipped mouthpiece. There is no annoying chirp or ring;
Pippen halts a conversation in mid-sentence and starts talking
to some voice in his ear, and if there were no wire snaking
down, you would think he was a babbling madman instead of what
he is: wealthy, accessorized, constantly in demand. He watches
the cars speed past the window, watches blankly as packs of kids
stop and gawk at him. "All right," he says. "O.K." Just as
abruptly, he turns his eyes back to the table.
"I dropped my car off at the Mercedes place to get it fixed, and
they gave me this little-ass car, a Honda Accord," Pippen says
to his breakfast companion. "That was the serviceman calling me
back, and he was pissed, too, at what they gave me. I told the
girl when I left, 'Man, what a damn trade-off: I give you a 2000
Mercedes, a $100,000 car, and you give me a $20,000 car to use?'"
Pippen shrugs oh-so-slightly. He has delivered all this with the
sly, oddly timed grin to which basketball fans have been treated
for the past 12 years, and the same monotone that has left so
many listeners underwhelmed. "People don't see him as an
intelligent person, maybe because he doesn't always make
intelligent choices," says Los Angeles Lakers coach Phil
Jackson, Pippen's former coach with the Chicago Bulls. "But
there's actually this intelligence that can astound you. His
level of awareness on the court is very high."
Pippen returns to the subject at hand: his joy over going from
the Houston Rockets to the Portland Trail Blazers on Oct. 2 in a
blockbuster trade; his happiness with his new teammates'
unselfish ways; his satisfaction--even though he had asked
Houston to trade him to the Lakers--at playing in the piney,
small-town ambience of Portland. Again he abruptly cocks his
head to look out the window. "Hey, Dave," he says. Twenty
seconds pass in silence. "What are you saying? List it for a
He is hardly suffering; this you can plainly say. Even after one
of the worst offensive seasons of his career (14.5 points per
game), even after his toxic depiction of former Rockets teammate
Charles Barkley as a lazy, overweight loser, Pippen seems at
ease. This is strange. Last season was the NBA's first in the
post-Jordan era, and no one embodied the league's struggle to
move on better than Pippen. While the league contended with its
bitter lockout, its amputee season and the lowest-rated Finals
in the 1990s, the Rockets' ill-conceived attempt to concoct
championship chemistry by adding Pippen to superstars Barkley
and Hakeem Olajuwon degenerated into finger-pointing, strained
friendships and a first-round exit from the '99 playoffs. No one
this decade had gained more from life with Jordan than Pippen,
and despite Pippen's acknowledged greatness, no one had suffered
more from that association: Scottie couldn't win without
Michael, it had been said before, during and after Jordan's
first retirement, from October 1993 to April '95, and in
Houston, it seemed, there was more proof.
"I miss playing with him," Pippen says of Jordan. "I miss our
body language out on the court, things we developed together. I
miss that we had one another, thatintimidation factor that we'd
bring to the game. I miss winning."
But no, he insists, even with his reputation at such a low ebb,
Pippen feels no need to prove himself without Jordan. Already,
the Pippen-led Trail Blazers have established themselves as one
of the NBA's Western powers, a talent-rich team playing stingy
defense and unselfish, fluid offense, Scottie's kind of
basketball. Everyone seems happy. Coach Mike Dunleavy calls
Pippen "the glue" that holds the Blazers together, the model for
what Portland wants to be.
"He brought that star quality, he brought that aura of winning,
that demeanor," says Blazers point guard Damon Stoudamire. "I
can just see it in him. When he goes by, I look at him on the
sly, see how he walks and what he does. Because he has been
That is Pippen's ultimate answer to all criticism, and one that
gives him license to feel as good about himself as he likes. He
has won six championships--"Six f------ rings!" says Portland
shooting guard Steve Smith--and, at 34, he knows this gives him
an authority that one twisted season can't erase. Jordan was his
role model, the one who taught him about winning: what it took,
how it should be handled, when to know it is over. Jordan taught
him how to pause professorially before answering a question, how
never to appear half naked before the cameras, what kind of
earring to dangle from his left lobe. Jordan showed him the
little things that go into acting like a success, and Pippen
absorbed them like a thirsty child. Now a man who was once poor
has a 74-foot yacht and a contract that pays him at least $14.75
million a year for the next three years and a wife so beautiful
that she seems molded out of plastic. Younger players look to
him for guidance, and few (if any) of his peers can teach him a
That is why, before home games, Pippen rarely tries to read his
opponents during warmups or watch a teammate to see how he
carries himself. No, before every game in Portland's Rose
Garden, Pippen only has eyes for one. He'll let his gaze drift
over to the courtside seat occupied by Paul Allen, cofounder of
Microsoft and owner of both the Trail Blazers and the Seattle
Seahawks, a man with a personal net worth of $40 billion. Pippen
looks at his employer's geeky exterior and wonders, much as he
wondered about Michael, How does he do it? Make no mistake:
After a year adrift, Pippen has himself a new role model.
"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 Pippen'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
"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 Pippen'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 L.A. 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."
Three days later Pippen was officially gone, traded to Portland
for forwards Walt Williams, Stacey Augmon and Carlos Rogers,
center Kelvin Cato and guards Ed Gray and Brian Shaw. But his
departure brought little peace; he and Barkley continue to
snipe. Barkley vowed that Pippen would regret what he
said--though when the Blazers and Rockets met for the first time
this season, on Nov. 26, there was no incident--and declared
that Pippen had broken an unwritten law by attacking a fellow
athlete. Pippen calls that a joke. "He's been calling Oliver
Miller fat since he's been in the league, and they played
together," Pippen says. "He's always put his teammates down."
If anything, Pippen says, Barkley broke a trust when he declared
that Pippen hadn't told him personally that he wanted to be
traded. "He turned around and lied and said I didn't tell him,
when I had spent a week in Hawaii with him," Pippen says. "Other
NBA guys, like Jason Kidd, were there. We all went out to play
golf one day, and I spoke to Charles about it. Then he gets back
to Houston and starts saying that he'd spent a week with me and
I hadn't said anything. I had." (Kidd confirms Pippen's account.)
This is not a battle Pippen can win. Though his game is as
selfless as can be, though he routinely takes the toughest
defensive assignment and sacrifices points to get his teammates
involved, he is still perceived as selfish. Yet every eruption
of his dark side takes his teammates by surprise. His
breast-beating about paltry contracts in Chicago, his ripping of
Barkley, his refusal to play at the end of Game 3--all of it
hits like a garbage can hurled into a piano recital.
"He may not be the greatest go-to guy in the world," Dunleavy
says of Pippen. "If I'm going to start a team and pick one guy,
there are a lot of other guys I'd pick. But he has the ability
to make all your guys go-to guys. He makes everybody better."
Nevertheless, at heart, Pippen has the look-at-me neediness of a
gunner. Though shooting and scoring are where he is least
valuable, though he is smart enough to know that his
selflessness is what makes him great, he still aches for the
stroking given to those who rack up the big numbers. When Jordan
took his hiatus to play baseball, Pippen took Jordan's locker.
"Which was a statement," Bach says. Pippen wants to get what
Jordan got. He wants to be like Mike.
The odd thing is that Pippen is closer than even he suspects. He
was named to the NBA's alltime top 50 list in 1996, and he
deserved it because he is in the same echelon as his idols Larry
Bird and Magic Johnson--more like them than like Jordan, in
fact, in his instinct to keep everyone involved in the game.
Pippen's problem has always been a lack of sophistication; he
transmits none of Johnson's joy or Bird's simplicity (never mind
that Magic was never as lighthearted nor Bird as uncomplicated
as they seemed), and when set against someone of Barkley's savvy
and wit, Pippen hardly stands a chance.
There was a time in the early '90s when Barkley somehow got
elevated to the status of Bird, Magic and Jordan, even though he
had never won a title, even though no one would argue that he
made anyone around him better. Much of this was due to Barkley's
undeniable personal appeal. He is a natural star, and in this
contretemps with Pippen he has read the situation and shrewdly
reduced the issue to terms easily understood by the common fan.
"I don't care what your psyche is," Barkley says of Pippen.
"When you're getting paid $14 million a year, you've got to
play. When you're getting paid that type of money, you have to
perform--no ifs, ands or buts. It was a shock to him last year.
He got a lot of negative publicity, and I think it affected him.
But I stuck by him through all that."
Let's be serious: Barkley's stature has been shrinking for
years, and for good reason. This is his final season, he says,
and unless something radical happens, he will end his playing
days revealed as a star who couldn't win. "Everybody knows
Charles Barkley is a great guy," says Lakers guard Ron Harper,
"but every year he's talking about winning a championship, and
then he comes to training camp out of shape. That shows what
kind of guy he is. Pip wants to win. If you aren't doing what
you should be doing, he's going to let you know."
When Pippen spoke about Barkley's lack of commitment, he was
echoing only what Jordan said in his retirement press
conference: Charles has never dedicated himself to winning. "I
guess I had to experience it for myself," Pippen says. No one in
Houston claims that Pippen was the poison that killed the
Rockets' championship chances, and without him this season the
team has gone south. "He gets a lot of criticism because he
wanted to be traded, almost like, Hate him because he wants to
be a winner," says Pippen's wife, Larsa. "That's the part most
people don't get. The [Houston] team was sorry. None of them
wanted to work hard, and then they wanted to win."
Still, even if Pippen is right about the Rockets, it doesn't
mean much. He didn't hide his dissatisfaction last season, and
he came off as a whiner. He remains a champion with little idea
of how to be a star. He has been saved from his own worst
impulses only by a remarkable incapacity to feel guilt. Each
time he has said or done something dumb, he has come back to
perform brilliantly. After his shocking refusal to play at the
end of Game 3 in '94, Pippen got 25 points, eight rebounds and
six assists in Game 4. This is one of his greatest talents: He
has always convinced himself that he carries no baggage.
"Sometimes Scottie just wants to be in that position where he
forces an issue or tells it like it is with an honesty that may
not serve him best, and then has to come back and regroup,"
Jackson says. "And he does it. That's the remarkable thing: He's
able to come out of that dark space. He doesn't bury himself."
As for Barkley, Pippen doesn't regret a thing he said. "I'm my
own man," Pippen says. "I make my own decisions. If they're
right or wrong, I have to live with them. It's not up to Charles
to try and guide me. Who is he to be a mentor to me?"
The waiter leans over the table: The Mercedes lady is in the
lobby; should he send her over? This is not quite the service
most people get from their auto repair shops, but it's clear
that having an unhappy Scottie Pippen tooling around Portland in
a Honda loaner doesn't sit well at the dealership. It actually
qualifies, in certain zip codes, as a crisis. The Mercedes lady
rushes up, sits and smiles in an attempt to soften the
situation. "What kind of car did you bring me?" Pippen says. His
eyebrows have shot up in the universal
"CLK Cabriolet," she says. Pippen gives her the half grin but
says nothing, waiting.
"I wanted to apologize for what happened," she begins. She
explains that she is the "S-Class specialist and service
adviser," that there was some kind of breakdown in
communication. "They should've referred you to me," she says. "I
wouldn't have let you leave in that way. Normally I'd give you
your S-Class demo...." Pippen keeps grinning, not being mean,
exactly, but letting the attractive, well-dressed young woman
natter on, letting her dangle just enough so that this kind of
thing never, ever happens again. It is one of those moments to
which he has grown so accustomed that it feels right, feels
exactly like what life should be. After 12 years in the NBA and
so many millions, there's nothing remarkable to Pippen about
sitting over breakfast in a four-star hotel while a stranger
from Mercedes-Benz begs his forgiveness.
"All right," Pippen says finally. "I appreciate it. O.K."
But it is still something of a miracle, a weird confluence of
timing and talent that has carried Pippen from utter obscurity
to fame and fortune. His life is a cliche--the American dream,
no less--and nothing critics say about his still having
something to prove can diminish what Pippen already holds in his
grasp. Forget that he hasn't won a title without Jordan, forget
what Barkley thinks. This is gravy time. Pippen came from
nothing and created himself. His greatest accomplishment may
have been that he looked around his shabby house as a boy, the
youngest of 12 kids, and decided his life wouldn't always be
that way. "Believe it or not, I used to dream big," Pippen says.
"I always felt I would be rich, I would be successful. That's
the only way you can handle it when it becomes reality."
In truth, all that dreaming was less a plan than vivid
imagining, because Pippen had no role model. No one rich and
famous had ever come out of Hamburg, Ark. (pop. 3,100), and if
you stayed there long enough, you'd most likely find yourself
working at the Georgia-Pacific paper mill, like Scottie's
father, Preston, happy to have a job and enduring the long
hours. Scottie's happiest memory of his father has nothing to do
with sports or Christmas; it was the waiting. Every day Scottie
would look out the window and wait for his father to trudge up
to the house, tired and bent by arthritis. Scottie sometimes
thinks of that now, and of the mill's chemical stench, the stink
of pulp filling the air--"a smell," he says, "you know you don't
want to be smelling the rest of your life."
The six Pippen boys all played ball down at the Pine Street
Courts, "grew up playing in the dust," says Carl Pippen,
Scottie's closest brother. All Scottie knew was that he didn't
want to be trapped in Hamburg, that he had to get out and see
all the cities and countries he'd heard about. But the family
had no money, and by the time Scottie started high school,
Preston had been paralyzed on one side of his body by a stroke.
When Scottie graduated from high school at 17, he was a
frighteningly skinny 6'1 1/2", and no college offered him a
scholarship. His high school coach persuaded the coach at
Central Arkansas, Don Dyer, to pull Scottie into the program as
a manager. When other players dropped out, Pippen got his
chance. He began growing as soon as he arrived on campus, and by
Halloween of his freshman year Dyer had gotten him a full ride.
By midseason Pippen was a starter.
In the summers Pippen would stay on campus in Conway, working
the night shift as a welder at the Virco furniture factory,
getting off at 7 a.m. and then working out before going to
sleep. He'd get up at 5 p.m., drive 35 minutes into Little Rock
and play summer-league games, then get back in time for his 11
p.m. shift. "I did that once in a while, but I couldn't go on,"
says Ronnie Martin, Pippen's oldest friend and a teammate at
Central Arkansas. "Scottie did it daily. He played every game,
and then he'd play more ball on the weekend. He loved the game.
We'd set a goal in junior high: One of us was going to make the
By the end of his sophomore year Pippen had played every
position at Central Arkansas. He had a point guard's mind in a
frame that grew to 6'7". Anytime he'd ease up in practice, Dyer
would yell, "There are 5,000 other guys who want what you want!"
Some Arkansas alumni contacted Pippen, trying to get him to
transfer to the state's premier school, and it was tempting.
Here was his first glimmer of the big time, a stroke for the ego
at last. But Pippen stayed in Conway, one of the smartest moves
he ever made. Instead of being pigeonholed into one position
with the Razorbacks, he continued to hone the all-around game
that would give him his pro career. At the time, however, it
seemed like a gamble he was destined to lose: Had he blown it?
Would anyone bother with an NAIA player? Would he get out of
Not long before his senior season Pippen suffered a hairline
fracture in his right femur. One doctor told him he was done for
the year. Another told him to try to play, and Pippen taped
himself up, never missed a game or practice. He averaged 23.6
points and 10 rebounds and was named NAIA All-America for the
second year in a row, but he still had no idea whether anyone
knew who he was. In his final game, against Harding, with a spot
in the national tournament on the line, Pippen scored 39 points
only to watch in horror as Harding won on a three-pointer. "That
devastated Scottie," Dyer says. "He was sure now nobody [in the
pros] would get a chance to see him. He thought it was all over,
and he just knelt down on the floor and cried."
Preston's last nine years weren't good; the stroke robbed him of
movement and coherent speech. "He had his mind," says Ethel
Pippen, Scottie's mother, speaking from the comfortable house
her son bought her in 1989. Preston never saw his son play as a
pro, not in person, and he died during the 1990 playoffs. But in
June 1987, Preston was sitting before the television set in his
home in Hamburg, the smell of the mill wafting in through the
windows, when his son was chosen fifth in the first round of the
NBA draft by the Seattle SuperSonics and immediately traded to
the Bulls. Ethel looked over at her husband. He had his mind,
all right. Tears were pooling in his eyes.
It was quite a night. Shaq got tossed, Portland rolled 97-82,
and Pippen--the man Lakers owner Jerry Buss declined to pursue
because of his ballooning salary over the next three
seasons--put together his usual all-around clinic against L.A.
on Nov. 6. Aside from getting 19 points, eight rebounds, five
assists and two steals, he did all the little things: deflected
passes, held Glen Rice to 14 points, disrupted flow. Pippen
slapped away Travis Knight's final shot of the first quarter,
twice doubled up on Tyronn Lue to force him to lose the ball
out-of-bounds, harassed Rick Fox so completely on one possession
that Fox lost the ball once, then again and then had to heave a
wild shot before the shot clock expired. Even Harper, Pippen's
close friend and former Bulls teammate, wasn't immune: As Pippen
smothered him just before the half, Harper was reduced to
throwing an air ball.
Pippen has the sleek body lines of a Learjet. There's a tiny
tattoo on his left biceps that reads PIP, and in case that's too
subtle, a white wristband bearing the same three letters often
rests just below his left elbow. Nobody plays the team game as
well as Scottie Pippen, but because of his off-court pop-offs,
few people acknowledge this.
"Everybody who talks about the Chicago Bulls talks about MJ
first," Harper says, "but Pip had a more all-around game.
Defense, offensive rebounds and defensive boards: Pip made the
game easier for us to play. But he may not ever get his due, not
until he brings that other championship ring home."
This is a technical analysis, a basketball purist's take,
because in matters that can't be quantified but mean
everything--heart, courage, response to pressure--Jordan was
incomparable. But the fact is, Jordan never won a championship
without Pippen, either, and for good reason. No one is more
versatile than Pippen. "He's the best defender I've seen,"
Dunleavy says. "I put him in a class with Bobby Jones, Sidney
Moncrief and certainly Jordan. But they're different. Jordan, at
his position, may have been as good as there was. But Scottie
could guard more positions than Michael. Scottie can handle more
Jackson wanted Pippen badly in L.A., but Buss never seriously
considered going after him. "I thought it was meant to be,"
Jackson says. "I thought he was a godsend for us in L.A. For me
to have to swallow it and move on was very difficult. On the
Bulls he was probably the player most liked by the others. He
mingled. He could bring out the best in the players and
communicate the best. Leadership, real leadership, is one of his
strengths. Everybody would say Michael is a great leader. He
leads by example, by rebuke, by harsh words. Scottie's
leadership was equally dominant, but it's a leadership of
patting the back, support."
Or, as former Bull Joe Kleine puts it, "Michael was the father
figure saying, 'You're grounded.' Pip was like Mom coming in to
tell you everything's going to be all right."
At week's end the Trail Blazers were 15-4 and leading the
Pacific Division. They had already handled contenders such as
the Lakers and the Miami Heat--without the help of power forward
Brian Grant, who returned from a knee injury on Nov. 17. Team
president Bob Whitsitt gathered together this impressive bunch,
dealing for Pippen and Smith and signing free agent Detlef
Schrempf in the off-season, but Pippen is the one stitching the
team together. "He wants another ring: That's why he's great and
why he has six of them," Smith says. "He could just coast, but
he won't. He still does the little things: He's here early, he
defends. He still plays hard. He dislocated his finger and kept
playing. A guy with six rings? You'd think he'd sit down. But he
wants to win. No matter what it takes."
He wants to put it all behind him. Remember: This is what Pippen
does best. "Pip made some crazy comments, but he has just
brushed that to the side," says Stoudamire. "It's like tunnel
vision. I envy that. He doesn't ever let anything distract him."
Yes, Pippen knows he's made mistakes; looking back, he'll tell
you that no one is more to blame for the Houston debacle than
he. He should've known better, he says. He should never have
gone there in the first place. And the 1.8 seconds? The
inexplicable migraine? He'd take those back, too.
Go back further: Pippen was married once before, to a Central
Arkansas student named Karen McCollum, but they were finished in
1990 after two years and a son named Antron. Then came more
female trouble: In May 1995 Pippen's ex-fiancee Yvette
DeLeone--the mother of his daughter, Sierra--accused him of
grabbing her arm and pushing her. Pippen was arrested on a
domestic battery charge, which was dropped when DeLeone declined
to testify against him. Seven months later he settled a
paternity suit and admitted having fathered twins by model Sonya
Roby. One of the babies died nine days after birth. The
survivor, a boy named Taylor, has no relationship with Pippen
beyond the financial.
Breakfast is done. Pippen's new loaner is being brought around.
No, he says, it's not strange having kids out there, his blood
growing up somewhere without him. He sees Antron the most, maybe
for a month, all told, every year. "I really only deal with two
of my kids--Antron and Sierra," Pippen says, but Sierra "not a
lot." Taylor he doesn't see at all. "I don't have a relationship
with the mom," he says. "Never have. It was a big mistake I
made. I can't go back and undo it, but I have to move on."
The waiter drops the check, brings back the receipt. "Hey, it
was a pleasure waiting on you," he says to Pippen. "Take care,
good luck. You've got this town buzzing."
"Thanks, man," Pippen says. "I hope I can keep it that way."
New town, new team, new wife: Pippen has reached a good place.
He has been married for 2 1/2 years to Larsa, a former model who
hopes to break into acting. Pippen has named his boat My Larsa.
Friends say they have never seen him so devoted to a woman.
"She's going to tell me what's right and what's wrong, and when
the day is done, she's going to stand by my side," Pippen says,
and for him to admit this is remarkable. He doesn't let many
people get close.
"If he doesn't have a feel for you," says Ronnie Martin, "it's
like a door closing. But he's happier with himself than he ever
has been. Larsa opened his eyes to a lot of things he was never
exposed to, like just learning to trust somebody. He's trusting
her more than anybody. He really loves her, and he says it out
loud. He comes out and tells me every day, 'I love my wife,
Ronnie. I wouldn't know what to do without my wife.'"
Pippen steps outside, to the front of the hotel. He signs an
autograph for an older woman, for her son. He signs for another
woman, who says this will make her week. The valet rolls up in
the new Mercedes. "That's it," Pippen says. He opens the door of
the convertible, admires the leather. He folds himself in. Game
tonight against Denver. Nap time. He hits the gas and rolls away.
That afternoon Jordan appears on The Rosie O'Donnell Show,
pitching a new perfume. The last one, Jordan says, did $230
million in business.
That night, after the game, Larsa is standing in a Rose Garden
hallway with the other players' families. She is talking about
meeting Pippen four years ago. "I was hesitant because there's a
lot of bad that comes with the good, especially dating
basketball players," she says. "I never had--and I could have
had my choice--because of that. But he's very family-oriented,
loves his mom, loves his siblings, is a good person, religious,
and he's from the South. That makes a difference. I didn't see
it for the first week and a half, and I saw him every day. Then
I said, God, he's so different from everybody else. He's
genuine, he's real, hardworking."
Asked if it was odd to have married a man who already had some
children, Larsa looks puzzled. "Some kids?" she says. "Wait. He
The next night Pippen is in the Blazers' locker room, dressed
sharply, ready to go home. No, he says, he didn't see Jordan on
TV. They talk occasionally, but not lately. Both have been busy.
"Two hundred...and...thirty...million?" Pippen says. He tries to
bend his mind around the figure, then gives up. No, he says, he
has no interest in getting his own perfume.
"My next step is to retire," he says. "Enjoy life a little bit.
I've been working hard for quite some time, a lot harder than a
lot of superstars in this game. I've put in a lot of off-season
hours to continue to get better. It wasn't just, I was the star.
I've always had to work, and it has paid off."
The plan is to take some time off, maybe think about scouting or
buying a piece of a team. "I might just go sail the seas," he
says, and that is the classic Pippen scenario: Stock up, take
Larsa's hand and go. Leave the past behind. Move on. Move on,
and don't bother looking back.
B/W PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPHS BY BRIAN LANKER
COLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPHS BY BRIAN LANKER Led by Pippen (with Grant), the Blazers are one of the NBA's Western powers, a talent-rich team playing stingy defense and unselfish, fluid offense, Scottie's kind of basketball. COLOR PHOTO: AL TIELEMANS "He may not be the greatest go-to guy in the world," Dunleavy says, "but he has the ability to make all your guys go-to guys. He makes everybody better. He's the best defender I've seen."
COLOR PHOTO: JOHN W. MCDONOUGH "I wouldn't give Charles Barkley an apology at gunpoint," Pippen said. "He can never expect one from me.... If anything, he owes me an apology for coming to play with his fat butt."
COLOR PHOTO: JOHN W. MCDONOUGH "Michael is a great leader," says Jackson. "He leads by example, by rebuke, by harsh words. Scottie's leadership is equally dominant, but it's a leadership of patting the back, support."
COLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPHS BY BRIAN LANKER He has been saved from his worst impulses only by a remarkable incapacity to feel guilt. Each time he has said or done something dumb, he has come back to perform brilliantly.
COLOR PHOTO: AL TIELEMANS "He brought that star quality, that aura of winning, that demeanor," Stoudamire (right) says. "I look at him on the sly, see how he walks and what he does. Because he's been there."
COLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPHS BY BRIAN LANKER "She's going to tell me what's right and what's wrong, and she's going to stand by my side," Scottie says of Larsa, and for him to admit this is remarkable. He doesn't let many people get close.