words & images // Nick DePaula
Sure, Michael had the damn flu. (And you can catch the "Flu Game" on NBA TV right now.) But while Scottie was playing some of the best ball of his life, and just so happened to be carrying off his heroic teammate after one of Jordan's most legendary performances, us sneaker fans around the world were enjoying the moment for another reason. A clear shot at the Zoom Pippen I.
While most of the country was familiar with the publicly released version of Scottie Pippen's very first official signature shoe in its full-length Max Air form (though the Air More Uptempo almost counts), the one on Pip's feet that night featured a full-length encapsulated Zoom Air bag, as per his exact request.
"That was always my call, and I was never a Max Air guy and always wanted to play closer to the floor," Pippen said during an interview for our Issue 29 feature. "I have never liked being in a high cushioned shoe, just because it was less stable and might have caused me to roll my ankle."
As Aaron Cooper, the designer of each Pippen signature shoe, recalls, Scottie also had the man he so famously played alongside to thank. "His Zoom Air version? That was MJ's contribution," reveals Cooper. "When I started working with Scottie, MJ and Tinker were mentoring us both. At the time I started designing the Pip I, Scottie was loving the Air More that had the full-length Air bag. So, of course, we wanted to continue with what Scottie liked and played in. However, somewhere along the design process, MJ convinced Pip that Zoom was a better technology for him. It was unfortunately, or fortunately [laughs], depending on your love for big Air vs Zoom, too late for us to change the design for production, but we could make Scottie his own special Zoom Air version. In the end, it all worked out ... we built a great full-length version for all the lovers of big Air, and we were also able to build Scottie a shoe to win another ring. Everyone was happy!"
Though the Zoom Pippen I never made it to retail and was only produced in Scottie's size 16, the switch in cushioning would last throughout his career. While Michael had made the transition from full-length Air in the Air Jordan XI to Zoom Air in the Air Jordan XII, Pippen would also enjoy Zoom Air in the versions of his next four signature shoes. [His Pippen IVs and Vs were modified with heel Zoom Air, though the retail versions incorporated heel Max Air.]
The game in which Michael scored 38 points to help the Bulls inch closer to their fifth championship to this day remains a fond memory for Scottie. Pippen contributed from all angles, putting up 17 points, 10 rebounds and five assists, all while hounding Jeff Hornacek to a miserable 2-11 shooting night. As he looks back, it's impossible to forget Michael's heroics on that now-classic Wednesday.
"I think he missed shootaround that morning, so already we sort've knew he was going to come out and play, but we didn't realize how sick he really was. He gutted it out," Pippen says. "Even though he looked very groggy and down from whatever medication he had been taking while he was dehydrated, he still came out and performed probably one of his greatest games. It wasn't a 50- or 60-point game, but just his presence out there spoke a lot to us."
The Flu Game. A classic us hoop fans will never forget for a countless number of reasons. Michael "gutting it out." The Bulls clicking on all cylinders in the most hostile of environments. The chance to forever get a glimpse at the Zoom Pippen I. And one of my favorite intricacies - the NBC camera man that is framed in nearly every angle of Pippen's embrace of Michael - wearing the retail Air Pippen I.
Check out Scottie's exact pair ahead.
Below: Scottie Pippen, holding a "Flu Game" commemorative Gatorade Jordan Series bottle.