#4 Houston Rockets Scottie Pippen's arrival makes for a lineup that's loaded --and a whirlpool that's crowded

February 08, 1999

In a league bloated with eight-figure celebrity lightweights who
haven't won anything, Scottie Pippen is an anachronism: a player
with six championship rings who still feels he has something to
prove. You have to go back to Bill Russell to find anyone as
well-fed and hungry. "People are going to say, 'Let's see if he
can win a championship without Michael,'" says Houston swingman
Eddie Johnson. "But I don't know what they're talking about.
Michael couldn't win without Scottie, either."

With the dramatic signing of Pippen (five years, $67.2 million),
the Rockets now resemble a jazz band at Preservation Hall: They
know how to swing, but they play with a bit of a hitch. Pippen
is 33 and underwent back surgery last July; Charles Barkley
turns 35 this month and also has a bad back; Hakeem Olajuwon is
35 and has an ailing knee; and Olajuwon's backup, Antoine Carr,
is 37. As a counterpoint, they're surrounded by a batch of
players in their early 20s, including rookie guard Michael
Dickerson from Arizona, a promising scorer. "I've got guys on
this team, I could be their daddy," says Johnson, 39. "You need
the type of energy they bring around you, their silliness." Now
he sounds as if he's talking about grandchildren.

"The balance in our personnel has got to be one of our
strengths," says coach Rudy Tomjanovich. "It's just like a
family, where the older members have to help out the younger

Their rivals hope that the Rockets will be too exhausted to
re-create their title runs of 1993-94 and '94-95. "Everybody's
saying we're too old," says Johnson. "Well, name me a young team
that's won an NBA championship."

Touche. Fully one quarter of the reigning Olympic gold medalists
will play for Houston this season. One of them, Olajuwon,
rebuilt his legs during the lockout with the help of Bahamian
triple jumper Frank Rutherford, an Olympic bronze medalist in
1992. "Frank helped me not just with my knee but also with my
whole mentality," says Olajuwon, who never recovered his
strength last season after surgery on his left knee forced him
to miss 33 games. "The goal was not to extend my career but to
improve the quality of the years I have left."

Pippen should help there. Roaming the half-court as gracefully as
Muhammad Ali worked the ring, he'll give Olajuwon more freedom on
offense. They'll also make a devastating pair defensively. "Over
the last couple of years I've been thinking about coming to play
here," says Pippen. "I've always wanted the opportunity to play
with a great center."

In Pippen and Olajuwon, the Rockets have two of the few
tried-and-true NBA champions still at work. Someday the next
generation is going to take over, but for now it looks as if the
old folks have pooled their resources in Houston for one last


COLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPH BY JOHN W. MCDONOUGH Launch time He has six rings, but Pippen still wants to show he can soar without Air.


Starters PVR* 1997-98 Key Stats

SF Scottie Pippen[+] 11 19.1 ppg 5.2 rpg 5.8 apg 1.80 spg
PF Charles Barkley 46 15.2 ppg 11.7 rpg 3.2 apg 48.5 FG%
C Hakeem Olajuwon 16 16.4 ppg 9.8 rpg 2.04 bpg 48.3 FG%
SG Michael Dickerson(R)[+]126 18.0 ppg 4.5 rpg 51.0 FG% 40.4 FG%
PG Matt Maloney 134 8.6 ppg 2.8 apg 40.8 FG% 36.4 3FG%

Top Reserves Bench Ranking (out of 29 teams): 24

G-F Eddie Johnson 199 8.4 ppg 2.0 rpg 41.7 FG% 33.3 3FG%
G Brent Price 209 5.6 ppg 2.7 apg 41.3 FG% 39.0 3FG%
C-F Antoine Carr[+] 235 5.7 ppg 2.0 rpg 0.80 bpg 46.5 FG%

1997-98 Record: 41-41 (fourth in Midwest)
Coach: Rudy Tomjanovich (eighth season with Rockets)

[+]New acquisition (R) Rookie (1997-98 statistics at Arizona)
*PVR: Player Value Ranking (explanation on page 68)

Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)