Pippen ready to celebrate Jordan hitting 50 once again
By Adam Fluck | 02.14.2013
It will hardly be the first time Michael Jordan has hit the half century mark.
In fact, the greatest basketball player of all-time scored 50 or more points 39 times during his illustrious NBA career.
-- Jordan enters HOF in 2009
-- First two titles, 20 years later: 1991 & 1992
But on Sunday, of course, hitting 50 will happen again in a much different sense, as Jordan will fittingly celebrate his 50th birthday on a day when the modern day game’s greats will gather for the 62nd NBA All-Star Game in Houston.
For Jordan, the birthday festivities will get started on Friday night, when Nike and the Jordan Brand host what will surely be a star-studded affair. Among those in attendance will be Scottie Pippen, who perhaps is positioned as well as anyone to remark on Jordan’s milestone birthday.
“The older I get, the more I tend to look back and reflect on those days,” Pippen said last week on the historical run he, Jordan and the Bulls enjoyed during the 1990s. “It’s pretty surprising when you think about how time has flown by so quickly. It’s something we can look back on and always be able to cherish.
“It truly doesn’t seem like it was that long ago since we first hooked up,” Pippen added. “It was before [the Bulls] were winning. I’m just happy we’ve both been able to age gracefully. It’s pretty amazing to not only celebrate his 50th birthday, but also celebrate one of the biggest brands out there.”
Pippen first united with Jordan in 1987 after a draft night trade brought him to Chicago following four years at the then-NAIA school University of Central Arkansas. Jordan had three professional seasons under his belt by then, but the Bulls had failed to produce a winning campaign, finishing 38-44, 30-52 (Jordan missed 64 games with a broken foot) and 40-42 in those years.
(Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE/Getty Images)
The arrival of Pippen, as well as power forward Horace Grant, provided the organization with the foundation which would overcome the rival Detroit Pistons in the late 1980s and go on to win three consecutive championships in 1991, 1992 and 1993.
Pippen remained with the Bulls after Jordan’s first retirement in 1993 and finished third in the NBA MVP voting in 1994. But a championship proved to be out of reach without Jordan, who spent a year and a half playing minor league baseball for the Chicago White Sox organization. In Jordan’s first full season back with the team, the Bulls finished 72-10, the best record in NBA history, and another three-peat was underway.
Though it’s been 15 years since Jordan’s championship-clinching shot during Game 6 of the 1998 NBA Finals in Utah – the last time he and Pippen shared the court as members of the same team – Pippen says not that much has changed when it comes to Jordan.
“I’ve seen him age, of course, but really, he’s not that different of a person,” said Pippen. “Michael has always been a very competitive person with an extraordinary drive. It’s been the guiding force of his life both on and off the basketball court.”
Like Pippen, who is Special Advisor to the President and COO for the Bulls, Jordan remains close to the game he loves as the majority owner of the Charlotte Bobcats. And according to Pippen, it is some of the same qualities which led to Jordan’s incredible success on the court which he applies to that role.
“I think being such a huge celebrity and not being able to go places and do things, it truly ignited his competitive fire even more because he was always around the guys and it became a motivation,” said Pippen. “He’s still a great guy, very successful from a business standpoint in terms of his brand and what he’s been able to do beyond when he played. But to me, I don’t see him any different from when he was a player aside from age.”
Like the Bulls did when Jordan first entered the league, the Bobcats have struggled during Jordan’s tenure. But Pippen believes he is in it for the long haul.
“I expect him to stick with it,” said Pippen. “I think he totally believes in it and he believes in himself. He’s a native of the state and I think he’s going to do all he can to make sure the team becomes a winner. Again, he’s someone who is so competitive and he’s driven to find a way for the organization to have success in the end.”
The relationship Jordan and Pippen share isn’t one that involves a lot of day-to-day dialogue. But when they do see each other, it’s like that old friend who you can reconnect with immediately, regardless of whether it has been months or years since the last contact.
(Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE/Getty Images)
“Michael and I spent so much time together as players that we never focused on spending time together away from the game,” said Pippen. “But our relationship is still very solid. It’s strong and it’s genuine. I’m happy to see him doing well in life and that he’s healthy. We’re still friends and when we see each other, it’s easy to look back and appreciate our time together.”
When Jordan was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 2009, he joked during his enshrinement speech that he might make a comeback at the age of 50. So what if there was one last run for the greatest player of all-time?
“Well, I haven’t seen him on the court in awhile so I don’t know,” Pippen said with a smile. “But if he is anything like me, his mind is probably telling him he can come back, but his body is saying no, no, no. So I don’t expect him to make that comeback… if he does, it will be short-lived.”
Last fall, Jordan surprised Pippen in Chicago at a surprise party to celebrate Pippen’s 47th birthday. Pippen looks forward to returning the favor in Houston.
“It was great to see him,” said Pippen. “Now I get to go to his at All-Star weekend to help him celebrate. It’s going to be a lot of fun. My party was pretty good, but it wasn’t anything like his will be. And it should be. I can’t wait for the festivities. I’m sure it will be a memorable night.”