When Simon & Schuster announced it would release Scottie Pippen's memoir titled "Unguarded" in November, the publisher promised the Chicago Bulls Hall of Fame forward would offer "pointed and transparent takes" on many principals from the dynasty days.
Pippen beat his own book to it.
In an interview with GQ Sports released on Thursday, Pippen called Phil Jackson's decision to give Toni Kukoc the last shot in a 1994 playoff game "a racial move to give [Kukoc] a rise."
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Bulls fans remember the moment, of course. Pippen, who had played so brilliantly all season after Michael Jordan's stunning retirement and minor-league baseball excursion, refused to re-enter the game with 1.8 seconds left after Jackson called Kukoc's number during the timeout. Kukoc sank the game-winning shot, sending Chicago Stadium into a frenzy and an emotional Bill Cartwright into a postgame speech for the ages about Pippen's infamous move.
Now, Pippen, in the GQ Sports interview, offered his take.
"I don't think it's a mystery. You need to read between the fine lines," Pippen said after being asked why he didn't re-enter the game. "It was my first year playing without Michael Jordan. Why wouldn't I be taking that last shot? I been through all the ups and downs, the battles with the Pistons and now you gonna insult me and tell me to take it out? I thought it was a pretty low blow. I felt like it was an opportunity to give [Kukoc] a rise. It was a racial move to give him a rise. After all I've been through with the organization, now you're gonna tell me to take the ball out and throw it to Toni Kukoc? You're insulting me. That's how I felt."
Asked by staff writer Tyler Tynes if Pippen is talking about Phil Jackson, Pippen continued.
"Yeah," he said. "Go back and look at it. It was my team. Why are you telling me take the ball out on a game-tying shot. It wasn't even a game-winning shot. Why are you trying to let him be the hero? He ain't the leader of this team. No. You trying to make him a hero to hit that shot. If he misses, he playing with house money. He playing what I done earned here. Okay? I have been earning this for Michael Jordan for years and he gets the last shot. And I'm supposed to step inside and let Kukoc get in there?"
Actually, Kukoc's shot did win the game. During ESPN's "The Last Dance," Pippen had called Jackson's decision to give Kukoc the last shot "an insult."
This isn't the first time Pippen has raised the issue of race involving Kukoc, with whom he is close. Upon his recent Hall of Fame selection last month, Kukoc even called Pippen his favorite teammate.
Following a March 1994 loss to the Cavaliers, Pippen told a Chicago radio reporter that Chicago Stadium fans don't boo white players like they do Black players. Pippen later begrudgingly apologized for his remarks.
Between the upcoming book and this interview, it's apparent Pippen is offering candid takes from his perspective. Stay tuned.