Michael Jordan loved taking clutch shots. However, unlike Scottie Pippen, the five-time MVP had no problem with Phil Jackson when the Zen Master drew up the game-winning shot for Toni Kukoc in Game 5 of the 1998 Finals.
During the 1994 playoffs, Pippen got upset at Jackson and refused to go into a game after Kukoc got the game-winning play drawn up for him. In the 1998 Finals, Jackson once again drew up a final play for Kukoc, this time with Jordan on the team, and His Airness acted the exact opposite of Pippen.
Michael Jordan wasn’t bothered by Phil Jackson drawing up play for Toni Kukoc
With the Bulls down two in Game 5 of the 1998 Finals, Jackson drew up the game-winning shot for Kukoc, who had a team-high 30 points. Even though Jordan was the best player in the NBA, he had no problem with Jackson’s decision.
“As much as I wanted Michael to have that crowning glory, I figured it was a wonderful time to use him as a decoy,” Jackson said in an as-told-to piece with Rick Telander for ESPN The Magazine, via Jack M Silverstein. “And Michael wasn’t bothered by that. He was the mistress of the moment, and he was fascinated by it. If that had been the winning shot, it would have been like cheating the Devil or God.”
What’s ironic is that not only did Jordan end up taking the last shot, but he also pretty obviously darted in front of Kukoc to take the inbound pass from Ron Harper. The 10-time scoring champion missed the 3-pointer at the buzzer, and the Bulls had to get on a plane and go to Utah for Game 6.
It would have been ideal for Jordan or Kukoc to finish the 1998 Finals in Game 5 since Pippen hurt his back after taking too many charges. The Bulls faced the daunting task of winning in Utah with their second-best player ailing. Luckily for them, they had the greatest player of all time.
Toni Kukoc on Game 6: We knew we would win because we have Michael Jordan
Pippen somehow played in Game 6 despite barely being able to run up and down the court. He went back to the locker room multiple times but ended up playing 25 minutes.
Kukoc scored 15 points on 7-of-14 shooting from the field. Meanwhile, an exhausted Jordan played 43 minutes and scored 45 points. The All-Star guard shot 15-of-35 from the floor, 3-of-7 from beyond the arc, and 12-of-15 from the free-throw line.
The Bulls won Game 6 by a final score of 87-86. Even though Chicago trailed by three with 41.0 seconds remaining in regulation, Kukoc knew Jordan wouldn’t let the Jazz win.
“We knew we would win because we have Michael Jordan,” Kukoc said. “I know Scottie shouldn’t have been playing, but his heart is much bigger than his back problem.”
Jordan and Pippen won six championships together, while Kukoc captured three in Chicago. The three Hall of Famers will likely always be linked since MJ and Pip’s rapport didn’t start off well with the lefty but became special at the end.
Scottie Pippen and Black Jesus attacked Special K in 1992
Jordan and Pippen went after Kukoc in the 1992 Olympics when Team USA faced Croatia. The Bulls superstars were upset that Jerry Krause was fawning over the Croatian Sensation when they were winning NBA championships for him.
Kukoc struggled on July 27, 1992. He scored just four points and had seven turnovers. Jordan and Pippen did everything in their power to make Krause look bad, and they succeeded as many pundits said Kukoc wouldn’t be able to play in the NBA after getting destroyed by Team USA.
However, Kukoc turned it around in the gold medal game, scoring 16 points and dishing out nine assists. Even though Team USA won, Jordan and Pippen were impressed and looked forward to playing with Toni in Chicago whenever the playmaker decided to come over.
Not only did Jordan, Pippen, and Kukoc win three rings together, but Superman presented both Pippen and Kukoc at their Hall of Fame ceremonies. It’s truly remarkable how the trio’s relationship evolved over time.