Peter Castro
May 06, 1996 12:00 PM

EVEN ON A RARE AFTERNOON off, Scottie Pippen’s life is a blur. After an intense morning practice with the Chicago Bulls, Pippen zips to his six-bedroom Highland Park, Ill., home, where he meets with his marketing manager about endorsement deals while autographing a pile of promotional items for Fritos and Rold Gold Pretzels, products he’s currently hawking. Through it all, though, Pippen, 30, keeps his almond eyes trained on what’s really precious to him today, his 14-month-old daughter, Sierra, who keeps reaching at him for attention. “Fatherhood is great,” says Pippen. “It’s an honor to have kids. It’s a responsibility.”

This may be a new Scottie Pippen, an evolved version of the man once known mostly for his sometimes temperamental—though often brilliant—play on the basketball court and as one of the game’s occasional malcontents. Even Pippen’s on-court persona is brightening. With the Chicago Bulls coming off a record 72-win season and entering the NBA playoffs last week as the team to beat, Pippen has begun to emerge from the shadow of his most famous teammate, not as the best player—that title will forever belong to Michael Jordan—but as a bona fide hard-court renaissance man.

“You can put him at any position you want and he knows the overall nature of what has to happen on the floor,” says Bulls coach Phil Jackson. Indeed, during Jordan’s two-year break from the game, Pippen led his team in scoring, rebounding, steals and assists. For his part, Jordan demanded, as an unofficial condition of his returning to the Bulls, that Pippen not be traded for a younger player. “This season has been the most fun for me,” says the 6’7″ Pippen. “Every arena we go to has lots of Bulls fans. We’re almost like a rock band.”

Pursuing the analogy, one might have described Pippen as the band’s petulant prima donna. During a playoff game against the New York Knicks in 1994, Pippen refused to take the court during the game’s final 1.8 seconds because, many suspected, he was displeased that teammate Toni Kukoc had been chosen to take the final shot—which Kukoc hit, winning the game. During a 1995 game with the Spurs, irked after a ref ejected him following his second technical foul, Pippen threw a chair onto the court. (These days he fancies himself the consummate team player—though he still can’t bring himself to read the books that Jackson handpicks for him. “I get them,” he says. “They hit my bag and then go out of my bag and up on the bookshelf.”)

Pippen’s relationships with women were equally rocky, or more so. In May 1995 he was arrested on a domestic battery charge after ex-fiancée Yvette DeLeone accused him of grabbing her arm and pushing her. (Police dropped charges when DeLeone, Sierra’s mother, refused to testify against Pippen.) And last December, Pippen settled a paternity suit filed by Sonya Roby for twin girls born to her in July 1994. Pippen, who also has an 8-year-old son, Antron, by former wife Karen McCollum Pippen, admitted fathering the twins—one of whom died nine days after birth—but doesn’t want to see Taylor, the survivor. “I don’t deal with [Taylor] because I don’t have any relationship with the mom,” says Pippen. “I’m sure it will change as the child gets older.”

Pippen’s best relationship these days is, ironically, with Karen, whom he meets on occasion during his weeklly visits with Antron. But his ex—their two-year marriage ended in 1990—still remembers vividly the tribulations of being married to a budding superstar. “We would go to dinner and I’m sitting there,” she recalls, “and women would just be passing him their [telephone] numbers.”

Recently, Pippen took Antron with him when he taped a guest spot on ER and introduced his son to some of the show’s stars. “The last couple of years,” says McCollum Pippen, “it’s like something hit Scottie in the head. He matured. He started to face responsibilities as a father. His father died, so I think he kind of figured out how important it is to be part of Antron’s life.”

The youngest of six boys and six girls born to Ethel Pippen, a home-maker, and her husband, Preston, a millworker, in Hamburg, Ark. (pop. 3,098), Pippen saw his parents stretch to make ends meet. “We managed,” says Ethel, 73. “We had gardens. We always had something to eat. It might not have been what they wanted, but we had plenty of food. To this day, Scottie says he doesn’t like peas.”

As a standout basketball player at Hamburg High School and the University of Central Arkansas, Pippen was drafted by the Bulls through a trade with the Seattle SuperSonics in 1987. By his second season, he was starting alongside Jordan, and the good times were rolling. His biggest disappointment was that his father, who suffered from chronic arthritis and a severe stroke, died in 1990, without ever seeing his son’s greatest triumphs. However, Pippen is proud that he got the opportunity to buy his parents a house, and he has since bought others for two sisters. “I’m very fortunate to be in this position,” says Pippen, who earns $3 million a year in salary and another $3 million from endorsements. “I’m never going to leave my family hanging out to dry.”

For all the tumult in Pippen’s professional life, the serene closeness he shares with his family remains with him, he says, to this day. “The respect I had to give my brothers and sisters growing up I think has helped me,” he says. “I want my kids to be raised the same way.” Pippen, who is not dating anyone at the moment, would also welcome a stable personal life. “I want someone that’s kind of independent,” he says, “and someone whose life is not just built around this ‘superstar.’ Plus I want someone who is going to be loving to me.”


LORNA GRISBY in Highland Park

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