While NBA fans are likely familiar with the unstoppable, 1990s Chicago Bulls roster, Scottie Pippen feels it's time they knew more about him.
The 56-year-old, who helped lead the team to six NBA championships alongside Michael Jordan, released his memoir, Unguarded, on Nov. 9. The book recounts the hardships Pippen faced as a child in Arkansas and the unlikely path he took to becoming one of the NBA's 75 greatest players of all time.
Pippen also takes him at Jordan, though, his headline-making comments stemming from his former teammate's participation in The Last Dance, a 10-part series about the legendary Bulls team that was released by ESPN in early 2020.
Pippen — who last played in the NBA in 2004 and was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 2010 — criticized the series for focusing significantly on Jordan, rather than what he had hoped would be an account of the team as a whole.
"Each episode was the same: Michael on a pedestal, his teammates secondary, smaller, the message no different from when he referred to us back then as his 'supporting cast,' " Pippen writes in the prologue. "They glorified Michael Jordan while not giving nearly enough praise to me and my proud teammates."
Because the series was co-produced by Jordan's Jump 23 company, Pippen felt Jordan was the "leading man and director" of a story with much more to be told. (Jordan's rep declined to comment to PEOPLE for this story.)
In an interview with PEOPLE, Pippen says he wanted to use Unguarded to tell his side and explain why the Bulls of the 1990s were not a one-man show.
simon and schuster
What do you think of the reaction to the book so far? There has been a lot of headlines.
Pippen: I've been out on the golf course. What kind of reaction have I been getting? [Laughs] But I've been excited about it. I've been out promoting and just been enjoying the journey.
So when you sat down to write this book, what was it like to revisit the events of your life?
Pippen: It was actually really exciting. It was a great moment to be able to relive the past again and to revisit the past with friends and families. The book was something that was done with a "team concept" in mind. All these great memories, these stories, I had people help me bring back those moments. So it was a great journey. It's been a lot of fun. And it's been exciting too, as I say, to revisit relationships and continue those relationships.
Did you learn anything new about yourself by going through that process?
Pippen: I don't want to say I learned anything new, but it did take me to some places where I was able to sort of fix some things, I guess. I don't want to say I learned new things, but really get more clarity about things that I learned from, whether it was my siblings, or a coach, or a friend.
One of the things you discuss early on in the book is how your brother, Ronnie, was paralyzed at a young age after being attacked by a bully, and while helping to take care of him, you and your siblings became caretakers to your father after he suffered a stroke.
You write, "Because of what happened to my brother and father, I learned early on how everything in your life can be taken away without the slightest warning." That's a really powerful sentiment — is that something that still affects you today?
Pippen: Yeah. I think I learned that early on in life, and I take that [with me] every day. It isn't just something that I used through sports or anything, but, it's telling a good friend that you love them, or telling your kids every day that you love them. You never know when the last time you may see them again. That's never something that you can predict.
Scottie Pippen/Instagram Scottie Pippen and son Antron
On that note, you lost your 33-year-old son, Antron Pippen, in April. How are you doing today?
Pippen: I'm doing fine. I think writing a book definitely was something that helped me get through it. And it was definitely something to keep me busy and keep my mind on something that was going to be positive for me.
At the start of Unguarded, you immediately address The Last Dance and Michael Jordan's part in it. Did the series help push you to want to get your story out?
Pippen: I won't say that, because I was working on the book before, but I definitely wanted to make sure that I addressed some things that were said in the documentary that I didn't agree with, that I felt should not have been a part of The Last Dance.
What do you feel could have been done differently?
Pippen: I just felt like that he had rights to really control something that I felt like should have been more historically about the Chicago Bulls, more about that team, and the history of that team. Especially, the last three seasons. And I just didn't think it went in that direction.
(Jordan previously had control over the 1997-1998 Bulls' season footage in the documentary until agreeing to its release for the series.)
You also talk about how you felt the press and fans paid too much attention to Michael, and not to you and your Bulls teammates. Another modern-day example could be Tom Brady during his time on the Patriots. In your opinion, do you think there's a general misconception about how team sports are played?
Pippen: I would definitely say that. You took the words out of my mouth. I think also, the people that write about the game don't really understand what team sport is. They only want to write about the standout player. And I think that a lot of times it's definitely taken a little bit too far, especially when you talk about team sports.
Andrew D. Bernstein/Getty Images Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen
Can you talk about how it felt during those years? Do those feelings of being overlooked accumulate over time?
No. No, because I think, ultimately, you're playing to win as a team, and that's ultimately what you're trying to achieve. I think all the accolades and things that are pulled along the side are more of a distraction for the team, and at some point, it praises one player. But I think along the whole journey, each team set out to try to win a title. Nothing distracts you from wanting to achieve that goal.
Is there anything you would do differently if you could go back?
I don't have any reason to turn back time. It was a great journey.
There have been only a few NBA players who have been compared to Michael, including LeBron James. In Unguarded, you give the edge to LeBron, saying he "embodies what the game is truly about," and calling him the "greatest" player in history.
Pippen: I just used him as an example of how he embodies how the game should be played. He's the ultimate teammate.
What ingredients make a great teammate, in your eyes?
Pippen: LeBron James [laughs]. His physicality, his knowledge of the game, the way that he plays the game, his style, his charisma. That's it, LeBron James.
RELATED VIDEO: Michael B. Jordan and LeBron James in Special Extra from NBA Lane
What's next for you, now the book has been released?
I created a bourbon for myself with Savage & Cooke. Dave Phinney is my partner, and we created a bourbon called Digits. We're going to be bringing it out on the national market here in the next few months. We're very excited about that.
And what lessons do you think people who have never played basketball can take away from your story?
I think that for all young men and women who have dreams or have any inspiration of doing anything in life, you should first believe in yourself. Work hard and continue to work towards those goals.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.