Michael Jordan retired from the NBA after the 1993 Finals, so Scottie Pippen was the leader of the Chicago Bulls during the 1993-94 season. That was the same campaign Toni Kukoc came to Chicago from Europe to make his Bulls debut.
Behind Pippen and Kukoc, the Bulls had a stellar 1993-94 season. However, the former performed a controversial act in the 1994 Eastern Conference semifinals against the New York Knicks, and it forced the latter to take a seismic shot, which didn’t surprise Jordan.
Scottie Pippen sat out final play against Knicks in Game 3 of 1994 Eastern Conference semifinals
The Bulls faced the Knicks in the 1994 Eastern Conference semifinals. New York won the first two games of the series, so Chicago was in a must-win situation in Game 3.
With 1.8 seconds left in regulation, Knicks star Patrick Ewing tied Game 3 at 102. Bulls head coach Phil Jackson called a timeout, and Pippen assumed he would get the final shot since he was the best player on the team.
However, Jackson called Kukoc’s number instead, and Pippen was upset, so much so that he refused to go into the game. Jordan, who was in Orlando getting ready for a baseball game with the Birmingham Barons, was in the bathroom when someone outside yelled what was going on.
In classic MJ fashion, the MVP didn’t panic because he knew his former team well. Even though he wasn’t around the 1993-94 squad, he watched them from afar and knew Kukoc — the Bulls’ newest weapon — would deliver in the clutch.
Michael Jordan told baseball teammates Toni Kukoc would hit game-winner
In Melissa Isaacson’s book Transition Game: An Inside Look at Life With the Chicago Bulls, Jordan revealed that he predicted Kukoc’s game-winner against the Knicks in 1994 (h/t Chicago sports historian Jack M Silverstein).
“I told them, ‘You don’t have to tell me. Kukoc is going to take the shot, and they’re going to win.’ I predicted the whole scenario,” Jordan said. “One thing I did see in Kukoc was that he was the only guy out there with the confidence to take the game-winning shot. He didn’t worry about the pros and cons. He felt, ‘If I miss it, so what?’ He had that confidence. And to take those shots, that’s how you’ve got to think.”
Kukoc hit a contested jumper over Anthony Mason to give the Bulls a 104-102 victory. However, while the Chicago players were happy, the situation with Pippen was impossible to ignore.
Bulls big man Bill Cartwright got up and addressed Pippen quitting on the team in the postgame locker room, and both players cried. Jordan called Jackson the following day, and the Zen Master shared what His Airness said to him in Episode 7 of ESPN’s The Last Dance docuseries.
Michael Jordan to Phil Jackson: I don’t think Scottie Pippen is ever gonna live this down
Pippen apologized to his teammates and played well the rest of the Bulls-Knicks series. However, New York won in seven games.
In The Last Dance, Jackson said Jordan told him, “I don’t know if Scottie’s ever gonna live this down.” The legendary shooting guard also briefly addressed the incident by saying, “It’s always gonna come back to haunt him at some point in some conversation. Pip knows better than that.”
Jordan returned to the Bulls in 1995 and helped Chicago win championships in 1996, 1997, and 1998. He and Pippen finished their careers with six rings and went undefeated in the Finals.
Jordan, Pippen, and Kukoc are each in the Hall of Fame, as is Jackson. The foursome will always be linked and overcame plenty of adversity to become basketball icons.