They were probably the biggest pair of hands ever to grasp a biathlon rifle.
They belonged to Scottie Pippen, the 6’8” basketball Hall of Famer. And they made the gun look more like a pistol, as a dozen reporters and dignitaries looked on.
After watching a pair of World Cup biathlon races on Saturday morning, Pippen had ambled out to point number 27 on the shooting range in Fort Kent, ME. There, he was handed a rifle by Max Cobb, the CEO of the U.S. Biathlon Association.
“Y’all get back!” Pippen said, waving away some overzealous photographers.
Staff members at the range were ready for him—they even had an extra-large cuff, an armband used by biathletes to steady their rifles. But Pippen wasn’t bothering with any of that stuff—this is a guy who’s been hunting before.
He pulled the rifle up to his cheek—without opening the flaps covering the sights.
With a little help, he got things figured out, and fired off five rounds. The first one was way off; the rest were closer, but not that close.
“I need another clip,” he said. And: “Can I sit down?”
No, this was not a dream. This was actually Scottie Pippen, braving a New England winter in massive rubber boots and a black Nike cap.
He had flown to northern Maine as the guest of Sergey Kushchenko, the CEO of the Russian Biathlon Union. The two are good friends, dating back to Kushchenko’s days as the president of the Russian basketball club CSKA earlier in the decade.
In a press conference on Saturday, Pippen said that he had been a little skeptical of Kushchenko’s offer to visit the biathlon races—“I did go on the internet, and Google it,” he said.
But Kushchenko said that he’d never had any doubts Pippen would come—the two guys are tight.
“If Scottie invited me, for example, to the moon, I would come. And I wouldn’t ask about the weather,” Kushchenko told me earlier this week.
Pippen flew into the nearby town of Presque Isle on Friday afternoon, drove to Fort Kent, and hit up a parade that evening before quietly spending the night at a local hotel, the Northern Door.
At the races on Saturday, he did his best to blend in, dressing in all black: big puffy snowpants, a cavernous canvas hunting jacket. But it’s hard to be missed when you’re 6’8” and one of a dozen or so African-American people in the entire municipality—and your credential actually says “Scottie Pippen—VIP.”
To his credit, he seemed to take genuine interest in the sport.
“It was great—I enjoyed it,” he said in a quick interview. “I don’t think I could ever compete in it, but I understand it.”
After making an appearance at the awards ceremony, Pippen sat shoulder-to-shoulder in a packed press room with the top three women’s finishers from Saturday’s pursuit race, fielding questions from reporters on topics ranging from his opinion of Maine to the similarities between basketball and biathlon. (“There’s not any.”)
Then, he headed outside, with Kushchenko and Ivan Tcherezov, a star Russian biathlete, in tow. At first, it was just Pippen and a few onlookers, but once people figured out what was going on, a small crowd started to gather. It included a number of photographers who edged out in front of the firing line for a better angle, eliciting some cringes from the biathlon cognoscenti.
On his feet, Pippen missed all five rounds in his first clip. Then, he sat down, pioneering a new shooting position. (In competition, biathletes fire while prone, or standing—not in between.)
With the gun in his lap, Pippen did something that no one expected him to do: he hit a target. Then, another, making him two for two on his second clip. He missed the third shot, but managed to knock down one more. He reloaded, then took down the last two, with a fist pump.
“How many shots it take me?” he asked.
Sure, Pippen’s known for a different kind of shooting percentage, but it sure seemed like he had a knack for this half of biathlon. In the press conference, he was asked what it would take to get him out on skis.
“A guaranteed contract,” he said.
Nathaniel Herz is a reporter for FasterSkier, who also covers city government for the Anchorage Daily News in Alaska. You can follow him on twitter @nat_herz.