Scottie Pippen had this night all to himself.
Other legendary Bulls figuresMichael Jordan and Phil Jackson to name a couplejoined him, but on this once-in-a-lifetime night the lights were dimmed and a sellout crowd of 22,410 gave Pippen a deafening ovation.
Flanked by his wife, Larsa, and four sons, Pippen raised a banner signifying the retirement of his No. 33 jersey during halftime of the Bulls' 93-80 loss to the Los Angeles Lakers on Friday at the United Center. He joins Jordan, Bob Love and Jerry Sloan as all-time Bulls greats who have been so honored, as well as Jackson.
Bulls and Lakers players were courtside, forsaking their typical halftime routines to soak in the moment. After the ceremony, Pippen embraced every Bulls player. He shares a bond with many of them from his return in 2003 and from his continued contributions to the organization.
The Bulls tried to cap the night with a victory but couldn't build on a 63-63 tie in the third quarter. They were outscored 21-12 in the fourth.
Kirk Hinrich, still recovering from the lingering effects of the concussion he suffered Monday, led the Bulls with 26 points to go with seven assists. Michael Sweetney added 22 points and 12 rebounds.
Kobe Bryant's 23 points led the five Lakers' starters in double figures.
Without question, this game appropriately took a back seat to the guest of honor, Pippen. At times looking like he might break down in tears and other times laughing sheepishly, Pippen unmistakably was touched by the tribute.
"Scottie, Scottie," fans chanted as Pippen prepared to address them.
"You've given me everything I could ever ask for," Pippen told the fans. "I'll never forget what you have done for me, and what I was able to do for you."
Pippen expressed gratitude to the Bulls' organization and to Jordan, with whom he teamed to lead the Bulls to six NBA titles in the 1990s.
"To join the greatest player that ever played the game being at his side means so much to me," Pippen said.
Jackson and Jordan both paid tribute with short speeches. Jackson's was quirky as he mentioned some of Pippen's infamous moments, including the unforgettable migraine headache against the Pistons in the early 1990s.
Jordan had only kind words.
"When we went into battle, I knew I had someone to watch my back," he said. "Scottie Pippen, he's my guy. I love him like a brother. He pushed me to be the best basketball player every day in practice."
Jordan said he had prayed for a player like Pippen to join him before Pippen's arrival in 1987. Pippen deferred to Jordan throughout his career but still etched his name in history. The future NBA Hall of Famer is a two-time Olympian and was named one of the NBA's 50 Greatest Players.
It's a rare occasion for Jordan to be a sidekick, but he played the part in distinguished fashion Friday, sitting at midcourt with Jackson, Love, Toni Kukoc and Horace Grant, among others.
Pippen was paid countless compliments, but perhaps current Bulls players, as well as Bulls coach Scott Skiles, offered the best description of his legacy.
They picked up on a Pippen nuance that went unmentioned in the retirement ceremony.
"To me he's still today what you would say a small forward is supposed to be," Tyson Chandler said. "Everyone tries to pattern their game after what he did. When you think of small forward, you think of Scottie Pippen."
Ben Gordon said: "A lot of people don't like to say it, but I think he was just as good an athlete as M.J."
As far as Skiles is concerned, Pippen is the standard by which other small forwards are measured.
His legacy is "the fact there's basically a position named for him," Skiles said. "Every year the draft rolls around, if there's a [6-foot-7-inch guy], it's can he be like Pippen?
"He has made his mark on the organization, and he has made a mark on the game. Not many guys can do that."
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