July 27, 1992, is a date Scottie Pippen and Toni Kukoc will likely never forget. It’s when the Dream Team crushed Croatia by a final score of 103-70 in the ’92 Olympic group stage. Pippen not only finished with 13 points, nine rebounds, and five assists, but he also held Kukoc to just four points. The lefty also had seven turnovers.
Pippen and Michael Jordan made it a point to embarrass Kukoc since Chicago Bulls general manager Jerry Krause was enamored with him. Krause drafted Kukoc with the 29th overall pick in the 1990 NBA Draft and wanted to make him the face of the franchise despite having Pippen and Jordan.
After the Dream Team destroyed Croatia by 33 points, Pippen took some shots at Kukoc during his postgame press conference. The comments were so harsh that even Jordan thought his partner in crime was hard on the Croatian Sensation.
Scottie Pippen demolished Toni Kukoc
After the Dream Team beat Croatia, Pippen held nothing back while talking about Kukoc. The Bulls superstar said he didn’t believe the Waiter had what it took to play in the NBA.
“I still hear talk that he just had a bad game, he was nervous,” Pippen said. “But if he’s that nervous, then he can’t come to the NBA and play 82 games.”
When reporters told Jordan what Pippen said about Kukoc, MJ laughed and said, “Yeah, that’s a little bit unfair and unjust to him. You gotta realize the guy was playing against 11 of the best players in the league.”
The Dream Team and Croatia met again in the gold medal game on Aug. 8. Even though Pippen and Jordan won once more, Kukoc finally earned some respect from his future teammates.
Toni Kukoc played well second time around against Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen
The Dream Team won the gold medal game by a final score of 117-85. However, Kukoc bounced back in a big way from the first meeting, finishing with 16 points and nine assists while shooting 5-of-9 from the field.
According to former NBA senior vice president of public relations Brian McIntyre, Jordan came into the postgame locker room impressed by how Kukoc played in the gold medal game after getting embarrassed in the first meeting: “I remember Michael coming back to the locker room saying, ‘He played pretty well, man. He’s tougher than we thought.'”
Pippen, Kukoc, and Jordan wound up being teammates for the final 17 games of the 1994-95 season after Jordan came out of retirement. The Bulls lost to the Orlando Magic in the 1995 Eastern Conference semifinals, but they dominated the NBA from 1995-96 to 1997-98.
Behind Jordan, Pippen, and Kukoc, the Bulls won three straight championships in 1996, 1997, and 1998. Jordan won the 1995-96 and 1997-98 MVP, while Kukoc won the Sixth Man of the Year Award in 1995-96.
It’s pretty remarkable that Jordan and Pippen won three rings with Kukoc. After all, the Bulls icons weren’t exactly friendly with Toni in the 1992 Olympics. Pippen also refused to go into a playoff game in 1994 after Phil Jackson drew up the game-winning shot for Kukoc instead of him.
Pippen, Kukoc, and Jordan are all in the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame. They will always be linked because of how Pippen and Jordan attacked Kukoc in 1992 and the success they eventually had together as teammates on the Bulls.
Stats courtesy of Basketball Reference