Michael Jordan used the excuse “my mules were sick” after Scottie Pippen defeated him in their first NBA match as rivals


For the better part of his time with the Chicago Bulls, Scottie Pippen had been the second-best simply because of Michael Jordan. Even back then, some say Pip was a better overall player than MJ, but he never got the chance to prove it.

Not until Pippen finally did during a regular season game between the Portland Trail Blazers and the Washington Wizards on Dec. 10, 2002, more than four years since he and Jordan won their last championship in Utah. Contrary to what many anticipated, it wasn’t a competitive duel.

Instead, it was a blowout game where Pippen’s Blazers torched Jordan’s Wizards, 98-79. The former Bulls stars scored 14 points apiece, but Pip only missed one field goal throughout the game. Well aware that the media would quiz him for comments, MJ humbly accepted defeat but still came up with an excuse.

“I know Pip, and I know he wanted to come out and play well,” Jordan said after the game via ESPN. “Believe me, I wanted to come out and play well, too. His horses were ready, and my mules were sick. I have to take some razzing for the time being.”

Pip knew what he had to do
At the time, Pippen was also aging. He was 36 years old and wasn’t really trying to prove anything as far as individual recognition. However, Pip confided that he knew people were intrigued to see how he would fare against Jordan in an actual NBA game, so he decided to prepare for it.

“I feel I was a little bit more ready for this game,” Pippen assessed. “I knew there was a lot of attention being brought to it, and I wanted to answer.”

MJ’s performance wasn’t the issue
At 39, Jordan’s 14 points were not bad at all. In fact, Wizards forward Bryon Russell and Wizards head coach Doug Collins knew it wasn’t MJ’s performance that cost them the game. Instead, it was the entire team’s evident lack of desire to compete.

“Everything from that game looked like a team that ain’t going to make the playoffs, a team that don’t care. I know we’re better than that. I know we are,” Russell commented.

“It looked like nobody wanted to be out there. You can’t win like that. It hurts when nobody wants to be out there,” Collins concluded. “It’s hard to figure out. I wish I could diagnose it. It’s one thing to get beaten, but we didn’t compete tonight. It’s really the first time I can say all year that we didn’t compete.”

In retrospect, everybody knew Jordan was way past his prime at the time, and that duel wasn’t even a playoff game. However, what’s done is done, and in the first and only matchup between arguably the best NBA duo of all time, Pippen prevailed.

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