In his 17-season NBA career, Scottie Pippen won six championships with the Chicago Bulls, brought home two Olympic gold medals and was an eight-time member of the NBA All-Defensive First Team.
But before Pippen cemented himself as one of the greatest players of all time, he had to prove himself. Coming out of high school, he was overlooked by most college basketball programs and ended up at the University of Central Arkansas, a small school close to his hometown. The coach didn't guarantee him a spot on the roster — let alone give him a scholarship — but agreed to let him practice. The understanding was that if Pippen improved enough, he could eventually join the team.
Pippen started his freshman season as the equipment manager, sweeping the gym, picking up the balls and keeping the equipment organized.
When some of his teammates quit, the freshman got to play in games as a reserve.
He even pestered the coach to give him a scholarship. "A few guys academically fall off, so some scholarships come available," Pippen recalls in "The Last Dance," a Netflix-ESPN joint documentary series on Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls' dynasty. "I go back, ask the coach. I was very persistent, and he finally gave me a scholarship."
It was well-deserved: Pippen was getting stronger and improving his game. Plus, he was still growing. "I was getting better at such a rapid pace," he says. "And then, my freshman to my sophomore year, over the summer, I grew five inches."
By the end of his sophomore year, he was close to 6′ 7" and "our best player," UCA's assistant coach at the time, Arch Jones, told the Chicago Tribune in 1995.
It didn't take long for NBA scouts to start noticing his dominance. After four years at UCA, Pippen was selected fifth overall in the 1987 NBA draft by the Seattle SuperSonics, who immediately traded him to the Bulls.
Pippen went on to spend 12 of his 17 NBA seasons with the Bulls. But he first learned to play on a dirt court at his grandmother's house in Hamburg, a tiny rural town in Arkansas. Growing up the youngest of 12 in a two-bedroom house, Pippen used the sport as an escape. "Basketball gave me the opportunity just to get out of the house and play," he says in the documentary series.
For a while, he didn't consider a professional career. "When I grew up, I was just another kid who wasn't going to college," said Pippen when UCA retired his jersey in 2010. "I didn't have any scholarship offers and there were times I wasn't even thinking about basketball.
"I just wanted to be in a positive environment and have a situation where I could lead a good life. Basketball ultimately gave me that."