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At 42 years old and out of the NBA since 2004, the former Chicago Bulls forward rolled out his game with a Scandinavian cameo last week.
Pippen's trip included playing two games for ToPo, the top team in the Finnish league, and one with Sundsvall, which currently leads the Swedish league. He left both clubs well on track to win their respective championships.
|With no NBA comeback in sight, Pippen took his game on the road.|
In his third game of the tour, he led the Sundsvall Dragons to a 102-74 win over Akropal of Rinkeby, registering 21 points, 12 rebounds, six assists and two steals in 30 minutes of action. Pippen was happy with his night's work.
"I spent five days here before I played, which gave me an opportunity to rest a little bit and train with my teammates," the six-time NBA champion said. "I wasn't well rested when I played in Finland, as I was suffering from a little bit of jet lag. I think the first two games really took the rust out, and this game was a lot better. I didn't get too tired tonight."
Pippen was impressed with the enthusiasm the locals had for basketballl, likening Sundsvall to hoop-crazed Kentucky. With the second-highest attendance in the league, the Dragons paid $66,000 for Pippen's appearance.
And he earned it. In his five days in Sundsvall, he coached youngsters, signed autographs, shook hands, met sponsors and worked the media. All this helped promote basketball, which is considered a minor sport in Sweden.
A local paper, Sundsvalls Tidning, described Pippen as "a 202 centimeter-high saint" the day before he donned the Dragons' colors.
So why did he come to the frozen north?
This trip was the brainchild of former ToPo manager Aleksi Valavuori, who persuaded Dennis Rodman to play a game for ToPo in 2005 after meeting him at Helsinki's Kaivohuone nightclub.
"The Rodman deal opened a lot of doors, and once we really started negotiating with Pippen, it only took a couple of weeks," Valavuori said. "It was a triple-win situation: The organizers won, Pippen won and the fans won because we had two sellouts. I can't say how much he made, but both parties are very happy with the deal."
Valavuori said his next project is to get Pippen and Michael Jordan to play together in Finland, possibly at a charity event.
The Dragons organization has long-standing ties with the Chicago Bulls. Bulls assistant coach Mike Wilhelm, who began his coaching career with the Dragons, taught at the Dragons' youth summer camp the past three years and acted as an intermediary in bringing Pippen to Sundsvall.
Of the three games Pippen played, the toughest matchup was his second game for ToPo against Honka Espoo -- the reigning champions and current home team of Petteri Koponen, the 2007 draft pick whose rights are held by the Portland Trail Blazers. Koponen, the rangy point guard who became only the second Finn drafted in the NBA, must complete his obligation to perform military or civil service before he moves to America. He is averaging 19.3 points after a slow start while adjusting to army life.
"He is the best player in the league," Honka coach Mihailo Pavicevic said. "[Trail Blazers] coach Nate [McMillan] asked me how he was doing, and I said, 'Coach, he'll be ready for you.' He's a real point guard, and he has a head for that position; he is able to create for others and for himself.
"I am preparing him for the NBA, which is very different to European basketball. First of all, he needs to get more physical. I will try to improve his post-up game both offensively and defensively."
Added Pippen, who scored nine points against Honka: "You know, he's a talented player; he gets a lot of shots. But then, he's on a team where he gets a lot of shots, and there are a few players I could take from this team who could put those numbers up if they got the opportunities. I wasn't too impressed with him on the defensive end, but offensively, he sure puts the ball up."
Pippen was more impressed with the overall basketball being played in this part of the globe.
"There are players I played with in Finland and Sweden that are more talented than players who are playing in the NBA," Pippen said. "But you have to fall in the right spot; you have to go to a team that needs somebody of your caliber."
Additional research by Erik Sundberg.