On Tuesday, in advance of the Chicago Bulls' Game 2 pairing with the Philadelphia 76ers, former Bull and Basketball Hall of Famer Scottie Pippen posted an open letter to the group on the team's website. Mindful of the fact that the team will be attempting to continue its championship march without reigning MVP Derrick Rose, Pippen pressed the current Bulls to find the resolve inside of them to carry on, in spite of the terrible news regarding Rose's torn ACL.
It's a well-written document, something that would have the less-inspired of us ready to run through walls, break fire extinguisher cases, or as Pippen puts it, "diving on the floor after a loose ball." In it, Pippen lauds both Rose for coming all the way out to his team's suburban practice facility on Monday while limping with one working leg, lifting his team's spirits along the way. And Pippen credits Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau for having his team prepared no matter how daunting the task.
It's a thoughtful, inspiring document. It's also completely and utterly pointless.
Not because this team's championship run is dead in the water. Anything can happen, and the Bulls (who won 18 of 27 games without Rose in the lineup during the regular season; including victories over the Celtics and Heat) aren't going to let a little thing like on-paper reality get in the way now. The letter is pointless because these Bulls have long been at their saturation point when it comes to commitment, drive and purpose. This team was going to be ready to compete, no matter what. They didn't need a push over the edge from any outside source, even one as well-respected (and, apparently, well-read) as Pippen.
In effect, this letter is almost akin to asking a Navy Seal to "grow a pair."
This doesn't mean you shouldn't give Scottie's paean a read. Because not only is the piece well-structured, but Pippen is in unique company when it comes to watching his best teammate walk off the floor for a while.
Michael Jordan retired before the 1993-94 season. And though Pippen, Horace Grant and B.J. Armstrong made the All-Star team the following year, the last two were more of a reaction to the team's popularity and the fan-based voting structure. Somehow, though, those Bulls won 55 games just a year after winning 57 contests — and with 78 fewer games full of Michael Jeffrey Jordan. In Pippen's letter, he reflects on that season spent circling the wagons, and it's disappointing outcome:
But as we entered the postseason, a lot of people had written us off and said we didn't have a chance without Michael. There was a lot of talk about how we wouldn't make it out of the first round and might even get swept. But we didn't listen to any of that. We believed in ourselves and we went out to play the type of basketball that we knew we were capable of playing. We swept Cleveland in the first round and it was a great feeling. Even though we ultimately fell short and lost to New York in a second round Game 7, we all believed we could have—and should have—done better. My point is that there was never a moment where we felt sorry for ourselves or let anyone push us into any self-doubt. We stayed positive and believed that if we stuck together and played good, hard defense, we could beat any team out there. That's what I believe you can do as well.
If you'll recall, the loss to the Knicks came after a contested series that was seemingly turned on its ear once Pippen was called for a questionable foul on New York's Hubert Davis late in Game 5. The Bulls were seemingly on the verge of being the first road team to take a game in that contest, but Davis hit all three free throws following the whistle, and New York prevailed. Though the Knicks were at worst Chicago's equal and more likely its superior on paper, Chicago chafed at having an outside influence seemingly take over. Not even Jordan's return, a year later, seemed to make it right.
This current team is made from the same strong stuff. This group doesn't need any rah-rah speeches, it just needs an update on rotations, and who is guarding whom. There is really very little, as the team prepares to play without Rose for the 28th time in 68 tries, that the Bulls can learn right now.
What they can do is learn about themselves. As we wondered about on Saturday, in the wake of Rose's injury, it's very possible that even the most well-intentioned of Bulls teams just can't overcome the crippling frustration that is the loss of the team's leading light. You can pump yourself up full of game plans and B12 and inspirational speeches up until you pass Pippen's courtside seat on your way toward half-court for the tipoff, but some things are sometimes just too hard to overcome. We don't doubt that these Bulls will continue apace, but should Chicago look less than its typical all-out self in Rose's absence? I'm not going to come down too harshly.
Whatever the outcome, Pippen's letter was well-managed, and a needed read. This team's motivation, though, was in place long, long ago.