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"I am not saying we would have won the game, but..." - Toni Kukoc on Yugoslavia vs. The Dream Team

For Kukoc, Yugoslavia vs. The Dream Team will forever be a big "what if."
Toni Kukoc, Croatian former NBA basketball player

Toni Kukoc

Toni Kukoc and a handful of basketball stars from ex-Yugoslavia were a force to be reckoned with on the international stage. Yugoslavia presented a strong case to challenge the juggernaut Dream Team following a series of wins. But by the 1992 Olympics, Yugoslavia dissolved into separate countries, and Kukoc could only wonder what if they stuck together and faced The Dream Team?

"If that (1988 Yugoslavia) team ever stayed together and we played the finals against the Dream Team, I am not saying we would have won the game, but I'm saying it would be a really, really interesting game to watch," Kukoc told in 2017. 

USA found its nemesis

For those who didn’t know, Yugoslavia used to be a headache for the USA. They beat the Americans in the Junior FIBA Tournament in 1987 and followed it up with another sensational win in the 1990 FIBA World Championship. That team was just flat-out stacked with Kukoc, Drazen Petrovic, Dino Radja, and Vlade Divac, among others, all playing on an elite level. For the first time in history, Team USA came across legitimate competition.

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Needless to say, the matchup between the two arguably best basketball nations in the world was highly-anticipated. Hoops fans were holding their breath for it in the 1992 Olympics. However, when Slovenia and Croatia parted ways as separate countries from Yugoslavia, it saw the team breaking apart as well.

Even with less firepower, Croatia’s Kukoc, Radja, and Petrovic still managed to reach the finals, where they faced The Dream Team. However, Croatia was dominated by then-NBA future Hall of Famers and suffered a 117-85 blowout loss.

An interesting “what if” indeed

To this day, it still lingers in Kukoc’s head as he is certain a united Yugoslavia team would have fared well against The Dream Team.

"We had eight, maybe nine guys played in the NBA with that team; we were good, knew each other well. The tournaments we won, World Championship, two European champions, we won with ease. Winning in the finals by 20, 30-some points, which is what the Dream Team won against other teams. It would have been a good game to watch," Kukoc said.

While it’s not that much of a surprise that Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson, Larry Bird, and the rest of The Dream Team would obliterate any team they took on at the time, it’s also hard to dismiss the idea that hadn’t the circumstances in Yugoslavia prompted its team to part ways, it could’ve been a different story.

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