Jim Harris: Pippen Was Like Nothing Seen at UCA, Before or Since

Everyone's image of Scottie Pippen is most likely formed from his days as Michael Jordan's sidekick on the Chicago Bulls. They hugged six NBA championship trophies together over an eight-year period with teammates dousing them in champagne. They shared spots on the list of NBA's top 50 players of all time, Jordan at the top of that in most everyone's eyes.

We still remember the first night we saw Scottie Pippen. He was seven inches shorter than the 6-foot-7 he'd eventually reach late in college. He was barely pushing 6-feet alongside another player about his same size, Ronnie Martin. They were the starting backcourt at Hamburg.

We were in Pine Bluff at the time, and when Hamburg's basketball games were reported to our staff by phone, we kept seeing the names Martin and Pippen and about 15 to 20 points between them for the Lions, who usually won under then coach Donald Wayne. So, we decided to check out this supposedly hot-shooting guard tandem one night about a quarter-century ago in Dollarway's little crackerbox of the gymnasium.

The memory of the game itself has faded, and maybe Dollarway actually won the game. But it was quite the shooting show by Martin and Pippen. We were a lot younger then, too, and maybe their shooting was no more extraordinary than what we saw from the likes of Joe Johnson and Jarrett Hart years later at Little Rock Central. But we seem to recall 20-foot jump shots being nailed in routine fashion. And, at this time, they were still only worth 2 points each.

Both players looked like they could compete on the Arkansas Intercollegiate Conference level that night.

Martin would immediately get that chance. Pippen, it turned out, was invited to be a manager at Central Arkansas.

We wouldn't see Pippen again until the 1986-87 season, when he was filled out as an adult and was towering at 6-feet-7. He was amazingly lithe compared with his peers and already the buzz was everywhere that Central Arkansas had a player considered good enough to play in the NBA. Marty Blake, one of the top talent scouts, was already extremely high on Pippen from seeing him the season before. A coach on the NCAA Division I level in state tried to convince Pippen to transfer and sit out a season, but he didn't have to waste that time with the NBA already noticing him.

That winter, we caught a Pippen and UCA appearance at UAPB's then new gymnasium. And, although UAPB had some decent players, Pippen lived up to the description of "man among boys." He drove through them like they couldn't move, he jumped over them to deliver a crowd-pleasing thunder-dunk. He hit from outside or scored at will from inside. He had this way of gliding even on defense to steal passes and hurry the ball upcourt.

Pippen made UAPB look like the Washington Generals, who were the hapless nightly fodder for the Harlem Globetrotters back then, while he would have been the supreme Globetrotter. Had he needed to try Geese Ausbie's half-court shot, surely he would have hit it.

Which brings us to this segue: those forever touring Globetrotters are in North Little Rock on Wednesday night for their annual Verizon Arena appearance at 7 p.m.

Meanwhile, at UCA's Farris Center, the Bears will retire Pippen's jersey.

It begged the question from Chris Bahn and other writers when the event was announced recently: What took them so long?

Not everybody deserves their jersey or number retired, but it the annals of UCA athletics certainly that honor has been long-overdue for an NBA great and Olympic gold-medal winner like Pippen.

We say all this to note that because of the scheduling conflict - the Globetrotters here and Pippen there - we won't be able to see his well-deserved moment in Conway. Pippen is scheduled to speak to the media after the halftime ceremony.

Meanwhile, we're taking our youngster to the Globetrotters. He'll see their magic and enjoy the fun, and we'll only wish he could have seen Pippen play, either in college or in the NBA. He probably won't believe how we'd describe it.

But it was one high-flying show when Pippen was a UCA Bear, when he'd grown from a 6-footer to 6-7 with a guard's quickness and athleticism, and Chicago enjoyed unimaginable basketball glory for nearly a decade when he joined Michael Jordan's party in the Windy City.