There are specific popular icons that achieve unanimous appeal. A person might not be a dedicated fan of the Beatles, the first two Godfathers, or Michael Jordan but there's a uniform agreement that these are classics. You can debate finer aesthetic points -- which album is best, which shot was the biggest, or whether you prefer the first or second installment of "The Godfather" -- but an overall cultural verdict has been reached.
Ironically, this consensus renders these standards pretty useless as measurements of what we love. An appreciation of the Beatles reveals a lot less about a person's taste than say, how they feel about Television, Joni Mitchell or Elvis Costello. "The Godfather" might have a more permanent place in the cinematic pantheon, but if you want to get a better handle on someone's pop sensibilities, listen to them recite their favorite narrative passages from "Goodfellas," or have them rank all five seasons of "The Wire" in order of preference.
Anyone can swoon over Michael Jordan, but in the eyes of M. Haubs of The Painted Area, how you feel about Scottie Pippen is a window into to your soul as a fan of the pro game:
... I can't lie, how you feel about Scottie Pippen is a referendum on how I feel about you as a basketball fan. If you don't think Pip was one of the 25 or so best players of all time, I don't think I want you in my life as a basketball fan.
That I even have to write those last couple sentences is a reflection that Pippen's legacy can be strangely polarizing to many fans, and that the particular moments and perceptions which stick in fans' heads can be unpredictable, and powerful forces in shaping their memories of players as a whole.
Haubs goes on to note that in"The Book of Basketball," Bill Simmons offers up his own litmus test that speaks to this polarization, much of it born out of Pippen's decision to sit out the final 1.8 seconds of Game 3 of the Eastern Conference semifinals:
In The Book of Basketball, Bill Simmons wrote, "[W]here you stand on Scottie depends on one question: do you give up on anyone who ever made a stupid mistake?"
He's of course referring to Game 3 of the Bulls-Knicks series in 1994, when Pippen took himself out of a tie game with 1.8 seconds left, after Phil Jackson called a play for Toni Kukoc instead of Pippen in the timeout huddle.
It was unquestionably a terrible moment for Pippen, but as Simmons (who emphatically supported Pippen in ranking him as the no. 24 player ever) writes, "If you think one selfish moment should overshadow a totally unselfish career, maybe you should climb off your high horse before you get hurt." I tend to agree that 17 seasons and 6 championships worth of consummate unselfishness should not be negated by 1.8 seconds.
That's the irony: Scottie Pippen was one of the ULTIMATE teammates in NBA history, purveyor of some of the most unselfish pure team basketball ever seen in the pro game - especially as the team leader in 1993-94 after Michael's first retirement -- and largely beloved by his teammates.
Most Hall of Famers can make fans smile, celebrate and reminisce. Pippen's most profound legacy might be his ability to make basketball fans ask themselves hard questions.