I don’t know Scottie Pippen but have a good friend who ran with him in college. When I joined the Hendrix College students in Conway, Arkansas on the night of their rival game with cross-town foe, University of Central Arkansas, I sat with a group of like-minded students. You’ve seen them before, only these people were at a small school instead of a much larger academic institution like Duke or Syracuse. There was no sitting down or being quiet or failing to respond to any nuance on the court as loudly as they could with cerebral cheers (well, as cerebral as cheers can be) like, “Nuts and bolts, Nuts and bolts, we got screwed!”
“The Grove” gym was something comparable to most normal high school gyms although I’ve seen much nicer gyms in high school. A wide-bodied person could hardly walk between the knees of a fan seated on the pull-out bleachers’ front row and the court’s sideline. Urban legend had more than one intoxicated student being ejected for pulling down the shorts of an opposing player during games over the years, but I wouldn’t be able to confirm anything like that!
Everyone who followed small-school college basketball in central Arkansas knew about Scottie Pippen’s rising star. Don’t mislead yourself into thinking that the number of people at that time might fill an ACC venue because it probably wouldn’t have. A nice crowd of maybe several hundred, maybe a thousand, attended, and I sat with the loud 70-100 students. We created a cacophony in the small gym, yelling when Pippen got the ball and stopping when he let it go. Sometimes it was Sssssssscooooootieeeeeeee, Sssssssssscoooooooootieeeeeee.
The Hendrix players were over-matched but stayed with UCA for part of the first half. UCA was eight points up in the latter part of the first half as Pippen caught the ball high and outside on the wing. He wasn’t but inches from the sideline on the baseline side of the time line. The Hendrix guard split the difference between where he should have been and where Pippen held the ball.
The group around me roared. For the short distance to Pippen in a small echoing space, it was loud enough. You couldn’t have heard anything else in the gym. UCA’s offense rotated and moved as the Hendrix players stayed with them, almost matching up while the Hendrix guard on Pippen stayed in place but wasn’t close enough for a 5 second count. We grew louder stomping on the wooden bleachers which reverberated the building and vibrated the court. Pippen had to feel the worn court slats shaking under his feet. We literally breathed down his neck.
With the shot clock running down, Pippen took the ball off his hip, crouched slightly and held the brown leather in front of him as if daring the Hendrix player to come get it. The Hendrix player sensed time was running out on the shot clock and moved forward to slow Pippen. Within an instant Pippen dribbled from his right to left and back in front of him with a quickness I hadn’t seen on television as he began to take a step forward. Had I been on the front row, I could have reached out and grabbed his jersey.
Pippen planted his moving foot, and from practically the same place where he stood by the time line, Scottie pulled up, seamlessly lifted off the vibrating floor, and shot. As the ball left his fingertips, players hustled back down court but Pippen hesitated. All he heard was string music. He turned toward his goal but looked back over his right shoulder at us grinning from ear to ear and as he started trotting away, he laughed in our direction as if to say, “Ya’ll ain’t gonna get in my head.”
His quickness and fluidity in hitting a shot from THAT spot on the court made me know he could play for a much bigger school. Months later it was a little surprising to see that he was being considered for the NBA Draft because he had little competition. To be chosen at the No. 5 position in the NBA Draft and being Michael Jordan’s sidekick was far from any realistic ending of the special vision we had.
It’s appropriate that today the University of Central Arkansas is retiring Scottie Pippen’s jersey.