Scottie Pippen, Phil Jackson, and Toni Kukoc won three consecutive titles together in 1996, 1997, and 1998 on the Chicago Bulls. They will forever be linked since they had tremendous success on the hardwood cooperatively.
The Bulls legends, though, will also be endlessly tied together because of what happened on May 13, 1994, against the New York Knicks in the Eastern Conference Semifinals. Pippen, one of the greatest players in NBA history, acted immaturely and did something no one on the Bulls thought was possible.
Scottie Pippen refused to go in on final possession after Phil Jackson drew play for Toni Kukoc
The Bulls and Knicks faced each other in the second round of the 1994 playoffs. New York won Games 1 and 2 at home and tied Game 3 at 102 with 1.8 seconds left in regulation.
With no Michael Jordan on the Bulls, Pippen was the best player and thought he would get the game-winning shot. However, Jackson drew up a play for Kukoc, and Pippen was agitated. He refused to go into the game and sat next to Bill Cartwright on the bench.
Jackson put Pete Myers in for Pippen, who was supposed to pass the ball to Kukoc. Myers threw a perfect pass to Kukoc, who hit a tough shot over Knicks forward Anthony Mason at the buzzer to give the Bulls the win. The Chicago Stadium crowd was rocking, but the only thing on the Bulls players’ minds was Pippen quitting on them.
Cartwright and Jackson addressed the situation in the postgame locker room. Pippen began to cry and apologized to his teammates, but he said in Episode 7 of the Last Dance that he wouldn’t change what he did if he had a chance to do it all over again.
27 years later, Pippen still feels insulated by Jackson for giving Kukoc the game-winning shot. Despite winning six championships with the Zen Master, Pippen had no problem bashing him during an interview with Tyler R. Tynes of GQ.
Scottie Pippen explains why he was angry at Phil Jackson for giving Toni Kukoc the shot
Pippen thinks it was a low blow by Jackson to draw up a play for Kukoc when he was the most dangerous weapon on the team. The seven-time All-Star also believes it was a racial move by Jackson to prop up Kukoc.
“I don’t think it’s a mystery, you need to read between the fine lines,” Pippen told GQ. “It was my first year playing without Michael Jordan, why wouldn’t I be taking that last shot? I been through all the ups and downs, the battles with the Pistons and now you gonna insult me and tell me to take it out? I thought it was a pretty low blow. I felt like it was an opportunity to give [Kukoc] a rise. It was a racial move to give him a rise. After all I’ve been through with this organization, now you’re gonna tell me to take the ball out and throw it to Toni Kukoc? You’re insulting me. That’s how I felt.”
Pippen, Jackson, and Kukoc moved on from the controversial play and tried their best to defeat the Knicks. However, the Bulls lost in seven games.
Nevertheless, it’s still remarkable that Pippen and Jackson maintained a positive relationship and won three more rings together once Jordan returned to the NBA after everything that transpired on May 13, 1994.
The Bulls won three straight rings starting in ’96
The 1995-96 season was a banner year for the Bulls. They won 72 games and defeated the Seattle SuperSonics in the Finals. In addition, Kukoc won the Sixth Man of the Year Award, Jackson was named Coach of the Year, Pippen made the All-Star team, and Jordan won his fourth regular-season MVP.
The Bulls finished off the dynasty with two more rings in ’97 and ’98 over the Utah Jazz. Despite their differences in the 1994 playoffs, Pippen and Jackson spoke highly of each other, with the former calling the latter the greatest coach in NBA history.
Pippen, Jackson, and Kukoc are in the Hall of Fame and icons in the city of Chicago. They may have been part of one of the most contentious moments in NBA history, but they moved past it to win three titles together.