Why Michael Jordan is to blame for Scottie Pippen’s failed Rockets’ stint

Houston Rockets Scottie Pippen Mandatory Credit: Brian Bahr /Allsport
Houston Rockets Scottie Pippen Mandatory Credit: Brian Bahr /Allsport /

NBA legend Michael Jordan blocked a potential trade that could have altered Scottie Pippen’s stint with the Houston Rockets.

The basketball world has finally gotten some level of excitement back, albeit in the form of a documentary. But let’s be clear, this is not just a documentary, this is the documentary we’ve all been waiting for. Houston Rockets fans have also used this ESPN special as an opportunity to shoot down the narrative that the Rockets wouldn’t have won titles without Jordan’s surprising retirement, which is a narrative that really needs to be put to sleep.

One thing that’s already been displayed during the first two episodes of The Last Dance is the power struggle that ensued between then Chicago Bulls general manager Jerry Krause and Michael Jordan. The Krause vs. Jordan power struggle was most on display with the team’s handling of Scottie Pippen, who was on the trade block in the offseason leading upto the 1997-98 season. The Bulls made it known that they were openly shopping Pippen, and one of the rumored destinations in advance of the 1997-98 season was the Houston Rockets.

It was reported that the Rockets were trying to trade Charles Barkley for Scottie Pippen, because of swirling rumors at the time that Hakeem Olajuwon and Clyde Drexler weren’t happy with Barkley off the court. The Rockets were rumored to have been seeking to ship away Barkley to the Bulls for Pippen and possibly Dennis Rodman or Ron Harper, to make the salaries match. This would’ve been necessary because Barkley had an exorbitantly higher salary than Pippen.

But if Olajuwon and Drexler weren’t happy with Barkley off the court, they certainly wouldn’t have been any happier with Rodman’s shenanigans, so it seems more likely that Harper would’ve been included in the deal. Harper was coming off a 1996-97 season in which he made 36.2 percent of his 3-pointers, which would’ve fit in well with Rockets coach Rudy Tomjanovich‘s style of shooting threes.

Ultimately Jordan intervened by saying no to the deal, citing his inability to play alongside Charles Barkley (surprise, surprise).

“No, no, no,” Jordan said, shaking his head. “Charles needs to stay right where he is. I love him like a brother but I don’t think I could play with him.”

The Bulls ultimately won their sixth and final championship with Pippen and Jordan, and the Rockets landed Pippen in the off-season, although the marriage didn’t last long. Pippen also had issues with Barkley, which he spoke about in detail at the conclusion of his lone season with the Houston Rockets.

“I probably should’ve listened to Michael [Jordan] a year ago when he said that Charles will never win a championship because he doesn’t show any dedication,” Pippen told ESPN. “He’s a very selfish guy. He doesn’t show the desire to want to win. That’s my reason for wanting to get away from playing with him–because he just doesn’t show the dedication.”

This provides alot more context behind Jordan’s reasons for not wanting to play alongside Barkley, as Pippen claims Jordan mentioned Barkley’s lack of dedication. But it’s worth the question of whether Pippen’s time in Houston would have been extended if Jordan hadn’t intervened and blocked the trade a year earlier.

If Pippen’s main issues were with Barkley and there was no Barkley, how much different would his tenure in Houston have gone? It’s also possible that Pippen would have still tried forcing the Rockets’ hand at a trade, because at the time Phil Jackson had just landed with the Los Angeles Lakers, and it was rumored that Pippen ultimately wanted to go there anyways.

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But we’ll never know how much differently Pippen’s stint in Houston would have gone without Barkley on the roster, because Jordan intervened and axed the trade.