The exhibition opener between the Bulls and Washington Bullets was nearing the end, and Scottie Pippen was settled comfortably at the end of the Chicago bench.
But when the Bullets tied it with 1.9 seconds left, Bulls coach Phil Jackson needed someone to throw an inbounds pass, and he called on his all-star forward. Pippen laughed heartily as he took the ball from the official.
In that one sequence, the seven-year veteran demonstrated that any ill feelings between him and Jackson from last year's playoffs were put aside.
You remember the playoffs. Pippen pouted when he was asked to throw -- rather than receive -- the inbounds pass with 1.8 seconds left in a tied Game 3 of the Eastern Conference semifinals against the New York Knicks. Appearing to quit on his team, he received criticism that might have ruined the average player.
He was the Most Valuable Player in last year's All-Star Game, made first-team All-NBA and was considered by many to be the most complete player in the game. Yet, during the off-season the Bulls nearly traded Pippen to the Seattle SuperSonics for Shawn Kemp, and even talked about dealing their one true star to the Bullets.
But on the eve of the 1994-95 season, Pippen, this year abandoning the bald look for a short-cropped Afro, is happily in a Bulls uniform and once again assuming the role of the team leader.
"I've pretty much put all of what happened in the playoffs out of my mind," Pippen said. "I voiced my opinion, and that was it. Sure, it was a mistake in judgment. But as a player you're the one who's playing the game, and you do want some input in what the outcome will be."
Pippen will have quite a bit of input in just how good the Bulls will be. He did fine lastseason, the Bulls' first without Michael Jordan, leading the team in scoring (22 per game) and assists (5.6). Now, with the departure of Horace Grant (Orlando Magic) and Bill Cartwright (SuperSonics), the spotlight on Pippen will be intense.
The demands will be intense as well. Jackson is looking for Pippen to lead the team in scoring, rebounding and assists -- a feat accomplished by just four players (Wilt Chamberlain, Elgin Baylor, Larry Bird and Jordan). Look for Pippen at times to assume the role of a point forward.
"I'm sure there will be times where I will probably guard the point guard," said the 6-foot-7, 225-pound Pippen. "I look forward to it. It's going to be a big advantage as a team to have that type of size on the court."
Pippen's versatility will be the key for the Bulls, a team that was written off after Jordan retired but still won 55 games (two fewer than the previous season). Eliminate a controversial foul called against Pippen in the series against New York, and Chicago may have gone on to win its fourth straight NBA title.
Reaching those heights this year will be difficult. The team did acquire Ron Harper in the off-season, but he still has to adapt to a more structured offense. Larry Krystkowiak replaces Grant in the starting lineup, and Will Perdue starts at center.
"Everyone's made a fuss about Horace leaving, but Bill Cartwright's loss is really big for us," Jackson said. "He was the protector of the lane, and he really gave us the energy to play hard and be fierce competitors because we knew he was backing everybody up."
Jackson is attempting to get so many new and younger faces acclimated to the team's trademark triangle offense that the Bulls had to go back to basics during training camp.
"It's safe to say that we're starting over again," point guard B. J. Armstrong said. "On the first day of camp, we had to restart all these drills that basically over the years we were just passing over because we all knew what we were doing."
Teammates say Pippen has been a leader through it all, and everyone seems to have forgotten the playoff controversy.
"Scottie's been very professional from Day One," Armstrong said. "He comes out, plays hard and does the best he can. He's been great so far, and he's really talking to everyone."
Including Toni Kukoc, who hit the winning shot in Pippen's infamous sit-down game. Pippen expressed his unhappiness when the Bulls aggressively pursued Kukoc, who was considered the best player in Europe before arriving in the NBA last season. Though Pippen isn't happy about being paid less than Kukoc, the two -- at least on the court -- have put aside their differences.
"Everyone's asking if there are problems between us, but we're fine," Kukoc said. "It's normal between us now. We discuss more about the game, and we're playing more minutes on the court together."
For a while, it seemed as if it would be Kukoc and Kemp playing side by side, had Chicago and Seattle completed a proposed draft-day deal. Pippen had to endure a summer of wondering whether he would be in Chicago this season.
"Initially, the trade rumors bothered me," Pippen said. "But I've pushed all that aside now. I talked to [Bulls vice president] Jerry Krause to make sure everything was fine. Things like that happen."
His head cleared from a tumultuous off-season, Pippen is looking now just to play ball.
"With this team, I have to show a lot of leadership," Pippen said. "But, no, I don't feel any added pressure.
"This team, this organization has prided itself in winning the last five years. And I want to do what I can to see we continue to keep that up."
Even if it means giving away -- rather than receiving -- the final shot.