Toni Kukoč: “All of them were arguing who’s going to guard me. They talked about letting anyone else score, but me.”

1992 Olympics, the Dream Team is playing, and everybody else is competing for silver. The games were already won, but there were a few statements the players wanted to make. One of them – shutting Toni Kukoč down. A lot of players wanted to show that international players are not welcome in the league, but Pippen and Jordan had a bit more motivation than the rest.

The young Croat was drafted by the Bulls in 1990 but decided to stay in Europe. Every year, the Bulls tried to convince Toni to come across the ocean, but he would remain in Europe for one more year. In the summer of 1992, Krause was publicly charming Kukoč to come to Chicago once again, and Jordan and Pippen were sick of it.

“Krause was recruiting this guy, talking how great he was. That’s like a father who has all his kids, and now he sees a kid that he loves more than he loves his own. We were not playing against Toni Kukoč; we were playing against Jerry Krause in a Croatian uniform.”

Michael Jordan

First of all, the metaphor Jordan used tells you a lot about his mentality. A father loving other children more? Ouch. Determined to prove he didn’t belong on the court with them, Pippen and Jordan were arguing who’s going to guard Toni. 

“I learned about it from an ESPN documentary many years later. All of them were arguing who’s going to guard me. They talked about letting anyone else score, but me. Jordan, Pippen, Drexler, Magic all wanted to guard me and make me look bad. Send a message I’m still far away from being NBA ready.”

Toni Kukoč

The situation was particularly sensitive for Pippen, who was at the end of his contract, and now Krause was recruiting a player in his position widely considered to be the best player in the world not playing in the NBA. Scottie felt like the team was holding Kukoč over his head in contract negotiations. Toni had a horrible game in the group stage, Pippen and Jordan locked him down. Kukoč had 4 points and 7 turnovers. But, Toni now knew what to expect in the final match. Croatia played much better and was the only team ever to lead against the Dream Team in the whole tournament. Kukoč scored 16 points, had 5 rebounds, and 9 assists, earning the respect of the Dream Team.

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The Dream Team locked Toni up in the group game – 4 points and 7 turnovers. "I knew what to expect in the Finals" – 16 points, 5 rebound, 9 assists

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Next summer he joined the Bulls, and would later say that Scottie Pippen was the best teammate he ever had, someone who was always there to support and encourage him. Kukoč earned their respect and his 3 rings to prove it.

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