FORT KENT — Scottie Pippen is a prominent figure in the world of sports, with six NBA championship rings, two Olympic gold medals and a place in the National Basketball Hall of Fame.
But Pippen was the one in awe Saturday, as he took in the men’s and women’s pursuit races at the World Cup Biathlon at the 10th Mountain Center.
“I didn’t know what to expect when I got here,” Pippen said following the women’s race. “I think the fans are totally behind the sport. I’m hoping in the near future that it’ll continue to grow in the U.S.”
Pippen confirmed that he was visiting Fort Kent as a guest of Sergei Kushchenko, the Russian first vice-president of the International Biathlon Union who is also an athletic adviser to New Jersey Nets owner Mikhail Prokhorov.
“He invited me over, we had planned it for quite a while,” Pippen said. “It was an opportunity for me to get introduced to another sport and get a chance to meet some world-class athletes as well.”
Pippen is best known for being one of the key components of the Bulls’ dynasty of the 1990s, as he and Michael Jordan teamed up to bring six NBA titles to the Windy City.
After leaving Chicago following the 1997-98 season, Pippen played one season for the Houston Rockets, four for the Portland Trail Blazers and one more with the Bulls before retiring in 2004.
The Bulls retired his No. 33 jersey the following season.
Pippen arrived in Aroostook County Friday afternoon, and attended the International Lights Parade Friday evening, which starts in Clair, New Brunswick, and heads across the St. John River to Fort Kent.
“It was great, very entertaining. You don’t know what you’re missing sometimes and this is a great experience for me to see a parade start in one country and end up in another country,” Pippen said. “I heard it’s the only parade that travels through two countries.”
Pippen was walking throughout the range area during the men’s competition, watching in awe as competitors fired their rifles at silver-dollar sized targets 50 meters away.
“For anybody to be able to do what I saw today, I have much respect to these men and women who came here today and performed,” said Pippen, who was flanked by the top three women’s finishers: Germans Andrea Henkle and Magdalena Neuner and Marie Dorin of France.
Pippen admittedly doesn’t know a whole lot about the sport of biathlon, which is very popular in Europe.
“Just being here today I saw the excitement. I now understand the sport (better) now as well as just being here for the first time,” he said. “It’s very interesting. I think that America will embrace this sport.”
This was Pippen’s first excursion to Maine, and he marveled at the high number of fans in Aroostook County who have come to watch the World Cup despite freezing temperatures throughout the weekend.
“It’s been great. The people here are just marvelous, especially for me the first time being here,” he said. “I know I’m in Boston Celtics country, but the people have just been very warm. They’ve shown their support for me throughout my career.”
When Pippen was first invited, he had no idea where Fort Kent was, but immediately started his research on both the area and biathlon.
“When I was first invited I was kind of taken (back) a little bit, but I did go on the Internet and Google it,” Pippen said. “But I’ve traveled to Europe a lot so I’ve seen the sport on TV a few times.”
After conducting interviews, Pippen made his way to the shooting range to try his hand with a rifle, but it’s going to take a lot to convince him to try the sport professionally.
“A guaranteed contract,” quipped the 6-foot-8 Pippen. “It’s a very interesting sport. Obviously I can’t ski and probably won’t be getting on any skis in the near future, but I have much respect for these athletes, especially these ladies sitting beside me.”
Pippen did plan on enjoying the outdoor activities the St. John Valley has to offer.
“Hopefully we’re going to jump on some snowmobiles and I’ll be able to enjoy the rest of the afternoon, maybe do some trails,” he said.
Pippen has enjoyed his time in Aroostook County and believes the area should continue to host the World Cup and other top biathlon events.
“Beautiful country; I don’t think there’s a better place to hold such an event,” he said. “This is a great sport, and I can say that I’m a fan. I appreciate the opportunity of being introduced this week.”
Pippen currently works for the Bulls as an ambassador, as he has a very visible presence at home games, team events and other community-related functions.