Country Much Too Small for Pip & Me
“On the Town” Sports Vue, December 7-14, 1995
There’s nothing quite so disillusioning as meeting a hero and finding out he or she’s a jerk. You then have to reassess your values and judgments. This, thankfully, has never happened to me. I don’t like most people, and my heroes are either long-retired or long dead.
Another type of disillusionment, albeit of a lesser intensity, is when you meet somebody well-known whom you had previously disliked, and they turn out to be a peach. What do you do? Take, for instance, Michael Jordan. I’ve never liked him as a player. Don’t ask why. Can’t explain it. The only shoe salesman I like is Al Bundy.
It doesn’t make sense, but that’s the way I feel. The one time I ever had personal contact with him, however, he was kind and gracious in turning me down. I didn’t speak with his Baldness on his most recent trip to the Wetlands, as he was being mobbed by the adoring media every step he took. Who needs the trouble? But I did poke my head in the media scrum and noticed MJ sitting patiently, answering politely all the inane, unoriginal questions reporters love to ask. Why couldn’t he just be a jerk to justify my dislike for him?
Thank God for Scottie Pippen. He was another player I never cared for. I don’t deny he’s a great player. I just sensed something about him that I didn’t like. Maybe it was because his teams were always beating my Lakers.
Scottie didn’t disappoint. I have no self doubts about my abilities to pick and choose heroes in this case. Scottie’s no little softie.
The last reporter left Pippen, while all the others were still hanging on every word at the stall next to his, where Jordan was repeating everything he has ever said on any stop in the NBA. I sidled up next to Pippen and settled in for my brush with grateness. It started out fine. He seemed like an OK chap.
“I think we just played poor basketball,” he started out, explaining the surprising closeness of the Grizzlies-Bulls contest. “Not taking anything away from their team, but we just didn’t play up to our expectations.” Blah, blah, blah. He was in Bull Durham-style athlete autopilot.
Then he opened up a bit more, perhaps by mistake. “I don’t see anything good about their team right now,” he said as my eyes popped out of their sockets. “I mean, they’re just a team that’s playing with a lot of pride and playing hard. You don’t want to call them a young team, but they’re a team that hasn’t had the opportunity to get together.” Yada, yada, yada.
Hang on there just one second, I thought. Was he really as forthright as I thought he was? Maybe he can clear things up. You don’t often hear an athlete outside of professional wrestling and boxing put down an opponent, even if he thinks the opponent is hopeless.
“You don’t see anything good about the Grizzlies?” I asked incredulously, because you would have. This is when the mood of the interview changed slightly.
“I don’t see anything good? Are you telling me something?”
“You said earlier, ‘I don’t see anything good about the Grizzlies.’”
“I answered your question, man. Don’t try to put words in my mouth, all right?”
“That’s what you said, though.”
“I don’t foresee them being no playoff team, if that’s what you asked me.”
It was obvious at this point that I wasn’t going to be ghostwriting any book of his. But I had to get to the bottom of this.
“What kind of positives do you see for this team?” I continued, asking the same kind of tired, moronic question that my colleagues were asking of Jordan.
“They’re playing hard,” he answered. “I mean, they’re struggling now to win a game, period.”
And with that, my audience with the Pip was over.
“Any more questions, man? You can leave, please,” he intoned.
“Listen here, you arrogant snot. Don’t blame me for remembering what you said. Next time think before you speak, if that’s not too difficult a process for you to handle. And I’ll leave when I’m good and ready to leave,” I shot back bravely. Only I didn’t use those exact words. What I actually said was, “I’m sorry sir,” and meekly walked away.
The timing, as it turned out, was perfect because no sooner had Pippen dismissed me than the brilliant coach Phil Jackson dismissed the rest of the media pack.
“Come on everyone. Let’s go!” the pop-philosopher said. “They close down the border at 10:45.”
I was almost going to tell him that this is a free country, too, and we can come and go as we please, but I thought better of it.
This country isn’t big enough for Scottie and me. One of us had to leave. And it wasn’t going to be me.
Not again, anyway.