Ahead of the Rio Olympics, SI caught up with NBA legend and two-time gold medalist Scottie Pippen for his thoughts on the roster and more.
Jeremy Woo: What were your first thoughts when you saw the Olympic roster?
Scottie Pippen: It’s great, I mean, you can’t go wrong. The NBA does so much due diligence, and their process of making the team is pretty extensive. I’m happy with their selection.
JW: Were you surprised to see so many stars pulling out of the games?
SP: You gotta look, a lot of those players have had long seasons. It becomes tough, especially when guys suffer injuries during the season, then you know, they have to pull out for certain reasons, the healing process, whatever it may be.
JW: On the flipside, is there an advantage to having younger guys coming in hungry for their first gold?
SP: I think that’s important. I think it’s always important to have some hungry guys, guys that can bring some leadership. I like the way they’re able to shuffle in different guys and still keep the hunger there.
JW: What comes to mind first when you think about your own Olympic experience?
SP: Just how the game has grown. For me, playing with the first Dream Team, winning a gold medal, really helping to globalize the game of basketball.
JW Absolutely—I mean, look at the draft last month, with a record number of international players. Do you see that and think, ‘Man, I had an impact there?’
SP: Yes, I do, because I think basketball has gotten so much more popular globally, players are really setting their focus on the NBA. I think that’s because the competition, the Olympic Games, players are developing a lot earlier now and it’s been great for the game.
JW: What’s the challenge, from your experience, being with all these new Olympic teammates for the first time? Is it tricky establishing that chemistry?
SP: I think it’s a bit tricky, but I think again, we have grown—speaking for the U.S.—Olympic basketball in a way that they’re doing a better job of allowing those players to build that. I think that’s a big difference, an area they’ve grown in, keeping these teams together for a few years and giving them practice. The familiarity is there and that’s helped them tremendously, they now have a pattern. I don’t think it’s a huge issue as [opposed] to if the players were just finishing the season, [then] you try and get them together ... I’m sure they had some idea of the players they wanted on the team.
JW: It feels like a program now.
SP: Yep. And it’s a better relationship with the players, too. And I think they also see it as a great opportunity to go and train.
JW: Looking back at your titles and your gold medals, is that apples and oranges? How do you weigh those successes?
SP: I take a lot of pride in my first ’92 gold medal. You know, your job, what you do every day, I think it takes a high priority over anything. That was something I dedicated myself to throughout my career. The Olympics is something you go and train for at a specific [time]. I’d probably say the championships mean more to me, but the gold medal makes you a bit different. It’s a special award.
JW: Shifting gears, wanted to get your thoughts on the Finals. Seeing what happened, was that more of a feat by LeBron, or the Warriors falling apart? How did you see those last few games?
SP: I think it’s more a testament to LeBron’s greatness. I think that if you reflect on last year, LeBron played this team to a Game 6, and he was without Kyrie, without Kevin Love, J.R. Smith had one of the worst Finals ... he really dominated last year. The difference this year was that he dominated them again, but Kyrie was the game-changer.
JW: Final thoughts on the Warriors’ accomplishments?
SP: You know, it was a great season. I enjoyed watching them. Truly it was some entertainment the league needed. You need a hot team out there to keep everybody watching and excited to watch—it was great for basketball. They didn’t get the ultimate goal but hey, that’s never guaranteed. That’s why you have to go and play it. It was never written in stone that they were going to go and win a championship. They still, a year ago, played Cleveland to a Game 6, and they were without those two players [Irving and Love]. One in particular could have been a co-MVP with LeBron. He played as well as he could to me.
JW: Have to ask—as a Bulls guy, was it weird to see Derrick Rose traded to the Knicks?
SP: Well, I’ve been around the game for awhile. Nothing is carved in stone, I think that the organization is making a move for what they feel is best for their future. They probably did what’s best for Derrick’s future as well, whether [or not] he is willing to acknowledge that. I think it’s a winning situation for both sides, and hopefully Derrick understands that. This is part of the business.