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Sidekick Supreme

Though eclipsed by MJ in their shared primes, Scottie Pippen had few peers

The career of Scottie Pippen, who retired last week after 17 NBA seasons, will no doubt be defined by a single act: his refusal to re-enter a 1994 playoff game because he wasn't being given the last shot. While that moment of pique or fear or whatever it was means something, it should not mean everything.

Pippen was a second banana with top-banana skills. Judging purely on versatility, the pride of Central Arkansas--who could shoot, rebound, pass and defend--had few peers. Michael Jordan's status as first among equals was confirmed when the 1992 Dream Team prepared for and played in the Olympics, but Pippen (below left, with Jordan) was arguably the second-best player on that team.

Yet once Jordan left Pippen's universe--they won six championships in Chicago from '91 to '98--Pippen never won another title. He even failed to become Jordan Lite. His year in Houston with Charles Barkley and Hakeem Olajuwon was a study in flawed chemistry, and things got worse when he went to Portland, where he should've been the franchise player but handed the mantle to Rasheed Wallace.

Some are meant to follow, not lead, and after a while, Pippen seemed to know that's how he would always be most comfortable.

--Jack McCallum