Tripucka grew up in Bloomfield, New Jersey, and was a three-year starter from 1974 to 1977 for the Bloomfield High School boys' basketball team. In three varsity seasons he scored 2,278 points, including 1,045 during his senior campaign, and his jersey (#42) was retired by Bloomfield High School. Tripucka also was a four-year starter at the University of Notre Dame, and led the Irish in scoring each year. He also helped lead them to the NCAA Tournament in each of his four years.
Tripucka was selected 12th overall by the Detroit Pistons in the 1981 NBA Draft. He proved to be a prolific scorer, averaging 21.6 points per game, and made the All-Star team in his rookie year. The following season Tripucka had his best season as a professional, averaging a career-best 26.5 points and 4.1 assists per game. He played in only 58 games, however, and failed to make the All-Star team. In his third season with the Pistons, Tripucka continued to play well, averaging 21.3 points per game, and qualified for the All-Star team. He helped lead the Pistons to their first playoff appearance since the 1976–77 season, but they were eliminated in five games in the first round. The following season Tripucka played in only 55 games and averaged 19.1 points per game. He did start all 9 playoff games, however, and helped the Pistons advance to the second round. The 1985–86 season, Tripucka's fifth, was another successful one. He missed only one game during the regular season, averaged 20 points per game, and helped lead the Pistons to a third straight post-season appearance. In the playoffs, however, the Pistons were eliminated in the first round.
After five successful seasons in Detroit, the Pistons traded Tripucka to the Utah Jazz for Adrian Dantley in 1986. Tripucka and Jazz coach Frank Layden didn't get along with each other; at the time, Layden was beginning to build the team around the talents of John Stockton and Karl Malone, and Tripucka was upset at his lack of involvement in the offense. He had two lackluster seasons with the franchise, averaging only 9.1 points per game during his two seasons with the team. The Jazz qualified for the playoffs during both of those seasons, but he didn't make much of an impact.
After two frustrating seasons with the Jazz, the Charlotte Hornets selected Tripucka in 1988 during their expansion draft. In his first season with the Hornets, he returned to his All-Star form, leading the Hornets with 22.6 points per game. In a game between the Hornets and the Jazz in 1989, shortly after Layden resigned as the Jazz's coach, Karl Malone expressed his devotion to Layden by writing "FRANK" on the heels of his sneakers. In a mock gesture, Tripucka responded by writing "DICK" on the back of his shoes (for then-Hornets coach Dick Harter). The move was seen as a jab at Layden and Malone, who Tripucka felt ran him out of Utah. In Tripucka's second season with the Hornets, he averaged 15.6 points per game, but the team struggled, finishing one game behind their inaugural season's record. The 1990–91 season, Tripucka's third with the Hornets and tenth overall, saw him average career lows with only 7 points, 2.3 rebounds and 2.1 assists per game. Following the season, Tripucka retired from the NBA.