It’s safe to say that Toni Kukoc will never forget the first time he played against Michael Jordan. The date was July 27, 1992, and the United States matched up against Croatia in the second game of the Olympics.
The major storyline for the USA-Croatia game was Jordan and Scottie Pippen facing off against Kukoc. The Chicago Bulls drafted Kukoc in the second round of the 1990 NBA Draft, and general manager Jerry Krause was fawning over the lefty despite Jordan and Pippen being superstars for him.
Jordan and Pippen made it a point to embarrass Krause by going after Kukoc. However, MJ surprisingly didn’t talk any trash to the Croatian Sensation.
Toni Kukoc: Michael Jordan didn’t talk trash to me in Olympics
Jordan is one of the best trash talkers in NBA history. During his Hall of Fame career, he routinely got in the head of his opponent by verbally abusing them and essentially scaring them.
However, according to Kukoc, Jordan let his game do the talking for him during the first USA-Croatia game.
“No, I don’t think so. I don’t think I ever heard Mike talk smack to us in the Olympics,” Kukoc told Brandon Robinson of Bally Sports. “But Michael was one of those guys if you don’t wake him up, then he’s gonna play. He believes in his skill and his dominance, and he’ll probably score 25 or 30 on you if you let it be in a way. But if you’re going to start talking trash to him, make sure that you can cover it. Because if you can’t, he’ll hit you for 45-50 and make you feel each and every bucket he scores.”
Before the first USA-Croatia game, Jordan and Pippen told their Dream Team teammates to leave Kukoc for them. The Bulls stars wanted the assignment of guarding the best player on Croatia since Krause loved him so much, and they humiliated the youngster.
Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen destroyed Toni Kukoc in the first game
Kukoc had a nightmare game on July 27, 1992. With Jordan and Pippen guarding him, the point forward couldn’t get into a rhythm and finished with only four points on 2-of-11 shooting from the field. He also had seven turnovers and four personal fouls.
Meanwhile, Jordan and Pippen were spectacular on both ends of the floor. The former put up 21 points, eight steals, and two blocks, while the latter posted 13 points, nine assists, and five steals. After the game, Pippen told reporters that he didn’t believe Kukoc could play in the NBA. It was evident that Krause made Jordan and Pippen angry by gushing over a player while they were winning championships for him.
Kukoc came to the NBA in 1993-94, the year Jordan retired from the Bulls to play baseball. The first season MJ, Pippen, and Kukoc were teammates was in 1995-96, and the trio made history together.
Bulls won 72 games in 1995-96, beat SuperSonics in Finals
Behind Jordan, Pippen, and Kukoc, the Bulls won 72 games in 1995-96. MJ won his fourth regular-season MVP, Pippen made his sixth All-Star team, and Kukoc won the Sixth Man of the Year Award.
In the 1996 Eastern Conference playoffs, the Bulls beat the Miami Heat, New York Knicks, and Orlando Magic to advance to the NBA Finals, where they faced Gary Payton and the Seattle SuperSonics. Chicago beat Seattle in six games, with Jordan, Pippen, and Kukoc leading the way as the team’s top three scorers.
Jordan and Pippen may have attacked Kukoc nonstop in the 1992 Olympics, but the trio eventually became friends and won three championships together. All three Bulls legends are in the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame and will certainly be linked to each other forever.