No more was right. The day after Scottie Pippen joined Roberto Duran in the quitting hall of fame, the Chicago Bulls circled the wagons, raised the drawbridge and began the cover-up.
Because Coach Phil Jackson had already revealed that Pippen took himself out of the last play of Friday night’s game, and because Pippen had already confirmed doing it after they “kind of exchanged some words,” they had their work cut out.
Pippen apologized to his teammates after the game for his petulance--he had said he was angry because Jackson set up the play for Toni Kukoc instead of Pippen--but has refused to discuss the issue since.
Asked where he and Jackson were going Saturday, he said only: “To Game 4,” and took no more questions.
The night before, Bull players all pretended ignorance or made up reasons why Pippen wasn’t on the floor (“I think he was hurt or something like that,” Kukoc said). Jackson marched to the interview room and declared that Pippen had asked out, an unpardonable sin for a physically sound star in a critical situation.
Saturday, however, with today’s Game 4 against the New York Knicks 24 hours away, Jackson issued a pardon, after all.
Rather than assess the damage to his team, Jackson made a statement, thought up excuses for Pippen and, in an increasingly popular technique among the Bulls, refused to take further questions.
“Now, I know you’re all here to get a lot of answers to a lot of questions,” Jackson said, “but I’m not going to answer your questions.
“What we did as a basketball team off the court last night was try to heal some wounds, to get together as a basketball club again and do the things we’ve always done well as champions.
“The basketball game was well played, and it was a topsy-turvy event and the players were fatigued mentally, physically, emotionally by that game, by the intensity of that game. I think you saw how highly wrapped maybe New York is and how highly wrapped the emotion is in this series and the pressures that are playing upon these players.
“We don’t want to add to them. I know you don’t either, as press people. And I know it’s your job to expose and to make us all look human and naked. We’re not going to do that, to our team or to any individual on our team. . . .
“Scottie chose not to go on the court last night for his own specific reasons. I put in a better passer in Pete Myers. Besides, Scottie had a fat lip and looked ugly at that point.
“And we got the job accomplished, and that’s all that matters.”
Pippen’s resentment of Kukoc goes back three seasons when the Bulls, having drafted the European star, made Pippen wait for a contract extension, keeping a slot open for Kukoc.
Michael Jordan and Pippen both sneered openly at the front office’s coup. At the ’92 Olympics, Pippen went out of his way to shut Kukoc down when the United States played Croatia.
Kukoc joined the Bulls this season with a contract that makes him a free agent this summer. The Bulls are expected to bump him into the $3-million class, almost as much as Pippen makes. Pippen has complained privately.
Pippen has been further upset at the anticipated departure of his buddy, Horace Grant. Only six Bulls remain from the last championship team and, after free-agent defections and retirements, it could be two by next season.
Pippen said recently he “thinks about it every day.”
Friday night, he took only four shots in the fourth quarter, missing three as the Knicks wiped out Chicago’s 20-point lead.
In the three fourth quarters in this series, he has made only three shots as the Knicks have outscored the Bulls, 87-49.
On Pippen’s last offensive play, he held the ball too long and was called for a 24-second violation. During the play, he yelled at Kukoc, telling him to clear off his side of the floor.
After Patrick Ewing’s basket with 1.8 seconds left tied the score, Jackson set up a play for Kukoc, who had won three regular-season games at the buzzer, rather than the cold Pippen.
A replay shows Pippen in the huddle, wincing visibly, throwing his head back in disgust.
He and Jackson had a brief exchange. Pippen took a seat. Grant and assistant coach John Bach came over to talk to him, but Pippen stayed where he was.
Pippen’s assignment was to throw the ball in to Kukoc. Jackson sent in Myers, rescued from the CBA this season to replace Jordan in the starting lineup, to make the pass, perfectly it turned out.
Kukoc caught the ball, turned and made the 20-footer that won the game and cut the Knick lead in the series to 2-1.
“Anything that was said or needed to be said was taken care of last night,” the Bulls’ Bill Wennington said.
“It’s a team issue, an in-house thing. It’s nothing serious. It’s nothing that probably hasn’t gone on a million times in everyone else’s office.
“He (Pippen) talked to us all and let us know where he was standing and what he was feeling and apologized to everyone, just for the incident in general. Not that anything was done wrong or anything, just the whole incident.”