Outright calling somebody a racist is a pretty serious accusation.
It might not stop you from becoming the president of the United States, but it sure as hell can destroy your reputation, make companies and corporations averse to forming partnerships with you, and in turn, ruin your career.
Former NBA coach Phil Jackson is no stranger to accusations of racial insensitivity—ask LeBron James, who once took serious issue with the 11-time NBA champion dismissing his associates as a “posse.” But this time around, the grenade is being thrown by a man who once played for him as a member of the ’90s era Chicago Bulls: NBA legend Scottie Pippen.
Instead of enjoying the fruits of his labor in retirement, Pippen has been in the news for all the wrong reasons as of late. His on-again, off-again wife can’t leave rappers or fellow NBA players alone, he wasn’t exactly thrilled with his portrayal in ESPN’s instant classic The Last Dance, and he probably won’t be getting a Christmas card from Kevin Durant this year. So with so many bridges already burned, he’s decided to embrace the dark side of The Force and inexplicably unloaded on his former coach during an interview on The Dan Patrick Show.
More specifically, he’s calling the guy who guided him to six NBA championships a full-fledged racist-ass racist.
Once upon a time, during a 1994 playoff game between Pippen’s Bulls and Patrick Ewing’s New York Knicks, the score was tied at 102 and there was only 1.8 seconds left in the game. With Michael Jordan off somewhere stinking it up on the baseball field, Pippen wanted the last shot, but Jackson instead opted to draw up a play for then-rookie Toni Kukoč. Incensed at this perceived betrayal, Pippen refused to re-enter the game because with Jordan gone, the seven-time All-Star finally wanted his turn to play hero. Kukoč would drain a game-winning jumper, Jackson was proven right, and Pippen has been a bitter bastard ever since.
In a recent interview with GQ, Pippen revisited that fateful moment and said the following:
“I don’t think it’s a mystery, you need to read between the fine lines. 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 [Kukoč] a rise. It was a racial move to give him a rise. After all I’ve been through with this organization, now you’re gonna tell me to take the ball out and throw it to Toni Kukoč? You’re insulting me. That’s how I felt.”
During his interview on Monday on The Dan Patrick Show, Pippen was given the opportunity to clarify those comments. Instead, he pulled the pin out of the grenade.
“Why would Toni, who’s a rookie, get the last-second shot and you put me out of bounds?” he asks. “That’s what I mean racial. That was Scottie Pippen’s team. Scottie Pippen was on pace to be an MVP that year, right? [...] Why would you put him in a position not to be successful? Why wouldn’t you put him in a position to succeed? Micheal Jordan’s not there.”
Patrick replies, “By saying ‘a racial move,’ then you’re calling Phil a racist.”
“I don’t got a problem with that,” Pippen says, before explaining how he came to that conclusion. “Do you remember Phil Jackson left the Lakers, went [and] wrote a book on Kobe Bryant, and then came back and coached him? I mean, who would do that? You name someone in professional sports that would do that.”
He continues, “And you’re [Jackson], who sits in the locker room and tells the players, ‘This is a circle, and everything stays within the circle because that’s what team is about.’ But you, as a head coach, open it up and now you go out and try to belittle—at that time—probably one of the greatest players in the game.”
I’ve never crossed paths with Phil Jackson a day in my life, so for all I know, he could be a grand wizard. But at face value, none of these accusations have anything to do with race whatsoever. And in hearing the tone in Pippen’s voice while he let the chopper spray, his allegations honestly sound rooted in bitterness or jealousy than any type of outward discriminatory behavior. We’ve all been in situations where we felt unappreciated or undervalued by family, friends, or our jobs, so trust me, I feel him on that. But racist? I need a little more meat on the bone before I can rock with that one. At least give us a microaggression or something.
Patrick also pointed to the fact that Jordan had no problem coughing up the rock to Steve Kerr so he could knock down a game-winner in the 1998 NBA Finals, but Pippen wasn’t having that, either.
“You know all those cameras [that were] sitting in that huddle, who they was working for?” he said. “You know who Michael was speaking to, right? That was planned. That was speaking to the camera. That wasn’t speaking out of, what we’re gonna have to do, what the play is gonna be. That was speaking to the camera. Had John Stockton not came down...trust me. That was building his own documentary, because he knew he was controlling the cameras. All those cameras were working basically for Michael Jordan, not the Chicago Bulls [...] That was not naturally spoken. That was rehearsed.”
The jury is still out on whether or not Phil Jackson is actually racist, but it sounds like Pippen, Jordan, and Jackson need to spend some quality time either in a boxing ring or with a therapist.