Review: Scottie Pippen authors his own ‘Last Dance’ story

“Unguarded,” by Scottie Pippen with Michael Arkush (Atria Books)

Scottie Pippen would like you to know that Michael Jordan and the rest of his teammates on the Chicago Bulls don’t win six NBA titles in the ’90s without him. The seven-time All-Star, two-time Olympic champion and recently minted member of the NBA’s 75th Anniversary Team waited decades to write a memoir, but holds nothing back in “Unguarded.” Like a lot of superstar athletes, it turns out Pippen can really hold a grudge.

On Jordan: “I was a much better teammate than Michael ever was.” On Doug Collins, his first coach in Chicago: “The best coaches are critical in a constructive manner. They don’t humiliate their players. They nurture them… Not Doug. Never Doug.” And on late Chicago Bulls General Manager Jerry Krause: “He was always looking to get rid of me.”

Those types of digs are what will make headlines from this book, but for every cutting remark Pippen also offers ample praise for the coaches and teammates who were part of his basketball journey. His overall point is that the media’s obsession with Michael Jordan — and No. 23′s willingness to accept all the accolades and endorsements — created a false narrative that ignored just how critical teamwork is to success on a basketball court.

Pippen says he wrote the book because of all the attention garnered by the Netflix documentary, “The Last Dance,” chronicling the Bulls’ final championship season in 1997-1998. “It was almost as if Michael felt the need to put me down to lift himself up,” he writes. He touches on all the topics NBA fans know so well — from the time he refused to play the final 1.8 seconds of a playoff game in 1994 after Coach Phil Jackson drew up the final shot for teammate Toni Kukoc, to Jordan taking a break from basketball that year and the next to play baseball.

Fans who followed his career closely won’t find much surprising in these pages. Pippen has always been outspoken, on the court and off, and the Bulls were not exactly an under-covered franchise in their heyday. It feels like Pippen simply wanted to put his thoughts all in one place so they’ll be a permanent part of the historical record.

In that sense, the book largely succeeds, though it would have been nice to go more behind the scenes during each championship season. Pippen’s recaps of playoff series read more like expansive box scores, lacking any new insights or stories that fans don’t already know. And in the end, that’s who will read this book — diehard Bulls fans who want to relive their team’s glory years.

Because regardless of how the story is told or who tells it — in a 10-part documentary or a 274-page memoir — one thing never changes: The Chicago Bulls twice won three championships in a row and that NBA history isn’t likely to be repeated any time soon.

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