This is Wayback Wednesday, your midweek blast from the past! In this feature, we dig into the archives, look back at the history of basketball gaming, and indulge in some nostalgia. Check in every Wednesday for retrospectives and other features on older versions of NBA Live, NBA 2K, and old school basketball video games in general. You’ll also find old NLSC editorials re-published with added commentary, and other flashback content. This week, I’m taking a look back at Scottie Pippen and his legacy in basketball video games.
Chicago Bulls legend and Hall of Famer Scottie Pippen turns 54 today. Incidentally, September 25th is a birthday that he shares with Mark Hamill, Will Smith, and my friend Courtney (Happy 30th Birthday, Courtney!). As you may know, my all-time favourite player is Michael Jordan, but Scottie Pippen is a close second, being MJ’s teammate on six Bulls championship squads in the 90s. I have many fond memories of that dynamic duo – dubbed “The Dobermans” by Johnny Bach due to their tenacity at both ends of the court – which could fill several Wayback Wednesday articles.
However, we obviously focus on basketball video games here at the NLSC. To that end, as it’s Pip’s birthday and he’s one of my all-time favourite players – as well as one of the greatest players in the history of basketball – it seems only appropriate that I take a look back at his legacy on the virtual hardwood. In my opinion, he has a rather interesting history in that regard, given how basketball video games were developed during his prime, and considering his standing among the NBA greats. Let’s take a look back…way back…
Although Scottie Pippen has received much acclaim and recognition for his Hall of Fame career, he’s also garnered some rather backhanded praise. It was inevitable of course, given that he was usually seen as being in the shadow of Michael Jordan. That would change during Jordan’s first retirement, when Pip became the go to guy in Chicago and had a career year. Even when MJ returned and led the Bulls to three more championships, everyone was more aware of what Pippen was capable of, and what he contributed to their title runs. He may not have been The Man, but he wasn’t quite in the shadows anymore, either. His greatness was recognised, and appreciated.
The funny thing is that as Pip was relinquishing the role as the Bulls’ Number One in real life, he was still very much The Man on the team in video games. Before Michael Jordan’s first retirement, he was a mainstay in NBA-licensed games prior to his opting out of the Players’ Association license in order to main control over his image. EA Sports had a deal with His Airness that allowed them to feature him in NBA Live’s predecessors including NBA Showdown, but after his comeback in 1995, they weren’t able to come to terms to put him in any of their games. This meant that he was either absent altogether from NBA Live and other titles, or represented by a Roster Player.
It also meant that Scottie Pippen was the best player on any given virtual Bulls squad; or at least, the best real player in games where a Roster Player filled in for MJ. That basically made him the stand-in for Jordan as far as being the number one option on offense, and the default Player One selection for the Bulls in games like NBA Jam. In any game that didn’t provide robust Create-a-Player facilities or allow for modding, many of us would basically use him like we would His Airness in our season games. I remember averaging around 44 points and 8 steals per game with him in an NBA Live 95 season on Super Nintendo, where adding MJ to the roster was impossible.
Despite essentially being the face of the virtual Chicago Bulls for a majority of the 90s, Pippen didn’t end up as a solo cover player for any major hoops games. On one hand that isn’t really a surprise, as basketball games didn’t have the same mainstream popularity that they do now, few licensed titles featured the top stars on their cover, and the cover player wasn’t as important as the brand. On the other hand, it wasn’t as though major names didn’t appear on any covers or perform motion capture for video games back in the 90s, and given that Michael Jordan was perennially unavailable, it’s somewhat surprising that a developer like EA Sports or Konami didn’t snap Pip up.
He was the featured star of one title, however: Slam City with Scottie Pippen. An FMV game – essentially an interactive movie – Slam City features one-on-one games against fictional players and Pippen, with gameplay consisting of quick-time events and cutscenes. Suffice to say, it isn’t considered a classic. Few video games featuring only one real player hold up compared to fully licensed titles such as the early NBA Live and NBA Jam games, but even Michael Jordan in Flight and David Robinson’s Supreme Court feature actual gameplay. There’s a reason that FMV games didn’t survive, at least in their original form. Cheesy acting certainly didn’t help, either.
Licensed games continued to feature Scottie Pippen throughout the later years of his career, while also including a younger version of him as a Legend and member of the Decade All-Stars, representing the 90s. He was one of several historical players that disappeared from video games around the mid 2000s, though he was frequently added in custom rosters. Pip would make his return alongside MJ in The Jordan Challenge in NBA 2K11, where he appears in every challenge with the exception of The Arrival, which occurred two years before he made his debut. He also appears in the 2010 reboot of NBA Jam by EA Sports, where he’s an unlockable Legend for the Bulls.
The following year, he was celebrated in NBA 2K12 with a challenge in the fantastic NBA’s Greatest mode. Pippen’s challenge recycled the matchup against the Seattle SuperSonics from the previous year, though it was still a fun game to play. In NBA 2K13, he was not only featured in the retro NBA squads, but also as a member of the 1992 Dream Team. He was originally missing from the team when negotiations for him to appear were unsuccessful, but an agreement was later reached. Scottie has continued to appear as an historical player in many games over the past decade or so including NBA 2K, NBA Live, NBA Jam: On Fire Edition, and NBA Playgrounds.
In 2019, Scottie Pippen took on a new role in NBA 2K20. On top of appearing on the historical NBA teams and returning Decade All-Stars, he also has a cameo as himself in the MyCAREER story. As MyPLAYER character Che and other NBA prospects are getting ready to play in an invitational game, Pip enters the locker room to give them a pep talk. While passing around one of his championship rings for the young players to look at, Scottie recounts his tough and unconventional road to the NBA, including his stint as team manager at Central Arkansas. He encourages all of them to persevere, and not give up on their dream even when things seem bleak.
A couple of other trivia notes about Scottie Pippen and video games. In at least two games – NBA Live 2004 and NBA Full Court Press – he’s been erroneously listed as a shooting guard. In the case of the latter, it’s likely due to him literally filling in for the missing Michael Jordan, starting in place of him with Toni Kukoc at small forward (NBA Live 96 had Ron Harper at shooting guard, and Steve Kerr at point guard). His appearance is also incorrect in a couple of early NBA Live games, as his skin tone is too dark in the console versions of NBA Live 95, while NBA Live 96 PC assigns him the “receding hair and goatee” face; not quite accurate for his hairline, then or now!
When it comes to the real NBA, Scottie Pippen has a legacy that speaks for itself. For those of us who grew up playing NBA video games in the 90s, he was often The Man for the Bulls – at least out of the box – and I’m sure that contributed to his popularity, and gave many of us a deeper appreciation of his talents. I’m grateful that we’ve been able to see Michael Jordan in video games again and celebrate his career through all the historical content, but I have many fond memories of Scottie Pippen starring for the Bulls in NBA Jam Tournament Edition, NBA Live 95, and in a proper farewell in NBA Live 2004, to name but a few. He and Roster Player were one hell of a duo.