Scottie & Horace: A look back at the '87 Draft
A look back at the newspaper reporting around the '87 NBA Draft, which forever changed the Bulls, the NBA, and the city of Chicago
The dynasty’s not the dynasty without Scottie Pippen.
I was only five on June 22, 1987. I knew Michael Jordan by then, but that was it, and I definitely wasn’t tracking the draft. And with the NBA Draft last night, I wanted to take a look back at the reporting of the day around the 1987 NBA Draft, the Bulls, Pippen and Horace Grant.
Part of my approach to research is simply reading the newspaper on a given topic, day by day, month by month. I enter with a question and search for answers, and then new questions come up and I search for those answers.
So, courtesy of Newspapers.com, here is a look back at how that life-changing draft played out in Illinois papers in real time.
May 29: A player “you probably never heard of”
The first mention of Pip in Illinois papers — at least in Newspapers.com — is a blurb in the Tribune by Skip Myslenski and Linda Kay, with Pippen listed as one of “three possible first-round choices you probably never heard of.”
The two other than Pippen were Jose Ortiz, who played two years in the NBA with the Jazz, and Hansi Gnad, who fell to the 3rd round and played professionally until 2003, though never in the NBA.
June 18: “Help is on the way”
The first big Tribune feature teasing a future Jordan-Pippen partnership was four days before the draft, with Bob Sakamoto noting that the Bulls had flown Pip in the day before. GM Jerry Krause was now exploring trades with one of their two picks: #8 and #10.
Per that story, the other team hot on Pippen’s trail was the Suns, run by Krause’s former boss Jerry Colangelo.
June 21: “Hearts set on Pippen”
A common story today is that Scottie was a major surprise even on draft day. The famous soundbite from the moment after Pip is drafted — “That’s right folks: You’ve probably never heard of Scottie Pippen” — re-enforces that.
But in Chicago at least, on the day before the draft, the word was out on the Bulls and Pippen. Sakamoto’s big draft story had Krause locked in on Pippen.
“I know there are several teams trying to move up in the draft to get him,” Krause said. “He has done some interesting things.”
At this point, the Bulls still had the 8th and 10th picks, and Sakamoto reported that Krause was exploring deals for the 10th.
After Pippen, Sakamoto reported that the Bulls were high on UNC guard Kenny Smith, followed by Clemon power forward Horace Grant, UNC big man Joe Wolf and California point guard Kevin Johnson. Krause’s plan was to get two players with his two picks, “whether it’s two picks or one pick and a veteran player.”
June 22: “Playing with Michael Jordan would be a great opportunity for me.”
While Krause was keeping things close — “I have no comment” — Sakamoto reported that the Bulls were “pulling out all the stops to land Central Arkansas’s Scottie Pippen” in that night’s draft.
He described their moves as “desperate,” with concerns that either the Kings or Cavs would take Pippen ahead of them. Sakamoto noted that the Bulls could make a trade in which a team ahead of them would draft Pippen on their behalf.
For his part, Pippen seemed rather excited about the prospect of coming to Chicago. He noted the majesty of Lake Michigan, and his friendship with Bulls guard Pete Myers. He also was excited to play with MJ.
The Herald and Review in Decatur ran an AP story that also pointed a line to Pippen for the Bulls. Importantly, that article compared Scottie to the Bucks’ Paul Pressey, who with coach Don Nelson created the point-forward position.
Scottie often gets pegged as the first point-forward, but it was Pressey; good to see it in print at the time.
June 23: “With Krause, you just never know.”
We know the rest: Krause pulled off a deal with the SuperSonics, where Seattle drafted Pippen for us at #5 and we drafted Olden Polynice for them at #8, followed by Horace at #10. With Pippen and Grant, we now had the trio that would lead the Bulls in the first three-peat.
My favorite part of the reporting that day out of the Tribune is the fan story, with Paul Sullivan at the Chicago Theatre watching the draft with Bulls fans. Sullivan reported as fans watched the Bulls select Polynice, though everyone suspected that a trade was in the works for Pippen, who Sullivan described as the “consensus choice” among the gathered crowd.
“(Polynice is) so glad he’s going to be playing for the Bulls and with Michael, and he’s not even going to be playing for them,” 25-year-old Bulls fan Andre Trice said about Polynice. “I think they’re still trying to get Scottie Pippen. With Krause, you just never know.”
Ten minutes after we took Polynice, the trade for Pippen went through.
“I feel a lot better now,” Trice said. “With Pippen, we’re going to be contenders within the next two years.”
The selection of Grant at #10 was a hit with the crowd, with the exception of the fans who wanted DePaul’s Dallas Comegys.
The Southern Illinoisian ran an AP story quoting Bulls coach Doug Collins as claiming that the team had drafted the exact three players they wanted: Pippen, Grant, and Houston forward Rickie Winslow.
June 24: “Two of the nicest guys I’ve ever met.”
The Bulls introduced Pippen and Grant as Bulls on June 23, 1987, and the quartet of Krause, Collins, Pippen and Grant were in high spirits and then some. Jerry Reinsdorf was too. The Bulls sold 300 season tickets that day, with one fan spending $20,000 on 24 tickets.
The vibe around the Pippen-Grant duo was that they complemented each other on and off the court. On the court, Pippen would be the star while Grant would be the consistent doer of the dirty work. Off the court, the man with experience at a big school — Grant — would help the small-school star Pippen adjust to the bright lights of the NBA and Chicago. Collins likened Grant’s potential influence on Pippen to the one then-26-year-old George McGinnis had on 19-year-old Darryl Dawkins on the '75-’76 76ers.
And in a preview of some of the personality challenges that would become central to this team, Grant noted that Krause and Collins were “two of the nicest guys I’ve ever met.”
To which Doug Collins said with a laugh:
“Wait ‘til you start playing for me.”