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Hoop Star Bios Score Points with Young Readers

New biographies of basketball pros Scottie Pippen and Hakeem Olajuwon, written for students in grades 3-6, will engage many reluctant readers! Included: Follow-up activities for use in the classroom!

Scottie Pippen Biography Book Cover Scottie Pippen and Hakeem Olajawon are just two of the superstars in the National Basketball Association who might be called the greatest were it not for the presence of Michael Jordan. Still, Pippen and Olajawon are basketball players of the top rank. Many students will recognize them, giving these biographies -- both written by Bill Gutman -- built-in appeal, especially with sports fans.

Aimed at students in grades 3 through 6, these biographies would also grab the interest of many middle school or even high school students who read below grade level. Among third- through sixth-graders, the books would be good choices to tempt otherwise reluctant readers.


Both Pippen, now a 6-foot-7 forward for the Chicago Bulls, and Olajuwon, a 7-foot center for the Houston Rockets, beat the odds to reach NBA superstardom.

Olajawon was born in Lagos, Nigeria, and didn't play hoops until he was 15. Attending the University of Houston in the United States, he didn't qualify to play basketball his freshman year. Eventually, through much hard work and determination, Olajuwon became an All-American. After three years of basketball at the university level, he was drafted by the Houston Rockets.

Pippen was born in the small town of Hamburg, Arkansas. Not especially tall and thin as a rail, he didn't excel in basketball at first. Even in high school, he wasn't considered a star player, but his goal was to play in the NBA. He agreed to be the manager of the basketball team at Central Arkansas University in order to qualify for an educational grant that would help pay his way through college. He had to show he was good enough to play for the team, which he did in his freshman year. But he played in only 20 games, and his playing time was limited. As he grew larger and stronger, and kept playing and playing, always determined, Pippen became an excellent player.

Stories like these, of course, may motivate students who have to work hard to reach their goals. But whether sports goals can be translated into academic or other real-life goals needs to be explored, if students are to feel the full effect of the lesson about life.


The biographies are positive portraits, but do include an occasional unflattering anecdote, especially in the Pippen biography. In the Eastern Conference semifinals of the playoffs in the 1993-1994 season, the Bulls met the tough New York Knicks. In the third game, in Chicago, Pippen stayed on the bench when Coach Phil Jackson picked Toni Kukoc to take the last shot of the game. It was revealed that Pippen had refused to go back in.

Many observers, such as sports columnists and TV commentators, criticized Pippen's behavior. Later, he apologized to the coach and the team. "You always learn from mistakes," Pippen said. "I just keep moving and try to do better."

Including a story like this will help young readers comprehend that even their heroes have flaws, and sometimes must apologize for their behavior.

The fact that Pippen has often been overshadowed by Bulls' teammate Michael Jordan is presented honestly in the biography. Asked if he wants to be like Mike, Pippen is quoted as replying, "No. I want to be like Scottie. That's all I can be and all I ever want to be."


Pippen and Olajuwon have both contributed money and time to various charitable causes. Their gifts to others are catalogued in the biographies, and both men are shown as solid citizens. The importance of giving something back when you are extraordinarily successful is illustrated without preachiness that might turn off students. The two basketball stars' commitment to helping young people may be especially significant.


Deeper issues, such as whether sports superstars in general earn their astronomical salaries or whether people in another line of work (teaching, medicine) might not be more deserving of admiration, are left untouched. These topics, however, can be introduced in a discussion if these bios are read in class, perhaps along with those of other sports figures.

Each book includes an address where Olajuwon or Pippen can be reached. Having students write a letter asking the sports figure a few questions would be a fun yet educational and challenging assignment. Perhaps a student could use any reply or materials received from the sports star in writing a biographical sketch with information not included in the actual biography.

Students might also use one or both books, as well as any other available books about famous sports figures, to find information they can use to write questions for a Sports Superstars Trivia Game. The game might have several categories, such as Stats, Early Years, and Championship Games.

Book reports are a familiar way to go, of course, but you might try a slightly different angle, such as having students write scripts for a film about the sports figure or write poems about him or her.

Article by Sharon Cromwell
Education World®
Copyright © 1998 Education World

Related Resources

  • Sports Great Scottie Pippen by Peter C. Bjarkman. Springfield, NJ: Enslow, 1996.
  • NBA High Flyers by Bill Gutman. New York: Pocket Books, 1995.
  • Scottie Pippen by Fred McMane. New York: Chelsea House, 1996.
  • Pro Basketball Megastars by Bruce Weber. New York: Scholastic.
  • The Story of Baskeball by Dave Anderson. New York: Morrow Junior Books, 1988.
  • Hakeem Olajuwon: Tower of Power by George R. Rekela. Minneapolis: Lerner, 1993.
  • Basketball's Playmakers by Nathan Aaseng. Minneapolis: Lerner, 1983.

Related Sites


  • The National Basketball Association The official site of the NBA offers statistics, profiles, the news on the latest games, and other tidbits.
  • The Chicago Bulls News about Michael Jordan tends to dominate the official site of the Chicago Bulls, but other players are highlighted, too, along with statistics and news.
  • The Houston Rockets Statistics, news, and other bits of information of interest to a sports fan.

Scottie Pippen: The Do-Everything Superstar and Hakeem Olajuwon: Superstar Center, both written by Bill Gutman, are published by The Millbrook Press. Millbrook's Sports World biography series, written for students in grades 3-6, includes more than 20 titles; among them are bios of Deion Sanders, Jennifer Capriati, Jim Abbott, Magic Johnson, Ken Griffey, Michael Jordan, Steve Young, Troy Aikman, and Shaquille O'Neal. Ask your bookseller to order the books for you or contact The Millbrook Press at 2 Old Milford Road, Brookfield, CT 06804. Phone: 800-462-4703.