Croatian basketball superstar Toni Kukoc talks about the influence of Michael Jordan in his game and the importance of Scottie Pippen
Toni Kukoc’s arrival in the NBA opened the doors to many international players to play in a league that otherwise primarily consisted of American nationals. Kukoc had established himself as a pro even before he made his NBA debut. The 6″11′ power forward had caught the eye of GM Jerry Krause, who was eager to recruit the 3x Euro League Champion to the Chicago Bulls. However, his contract issues with Scottie Pippen had the whole Bulls roster resent Kukoc.
The prime example is the 1992 Olympics, where Michael Jordan and Pippen made it their life goal to play bully ball won Kukoc and not allow him to score at any point. The superstar duo succeeded at the same, with Kukoc only making 2 out of his 11 shots.
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However, Kukoc would make his debut in the Bulls uniform in 1993. The Croatian superstar would then earn himself a position with the team despite certain resistance at first. Jordan, who would make his highly televised return in 1995. In the following years, the Bulls would go on to 3-peat, with Kukoc playing an important role in the team.
Toni Kukoc talks about his relationship with Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen during his time in Chicago.
Kukoc was recently inducted into the James Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame, class of 2021. The 3x NBA champion opened up on his relationship with former teammates Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen. When asked about the influence MJ had on his game, Kukoc said,
“He wasn’t the nicest of teammates. But in a way, he was pushing everybody to practice good.”
— Toni Kukoc on Michael Jordanhttps://t.co/4VImA2vbpu
— Bulls Nation (@BullsNationCP) September 11, 2021
Despite coming off the bench in 1996, Kukoc remained the 3rd highest scorer on the team averaging 13.1 PPG on a 49.0 shooting from the field and 40.3% shooting from the 3-point line. His performances earned him the 6th man of the year accolade.
Kukoc further added how Pippen was the best teammate he had on the roaster.
I always say Michael probably was the best player, said Kukoc when asked who his favorite teammate was. Scottie, to me, was as important as Michael. Because of that idea that Scottie was taking care of the whole team and was guarding people. He would bring the ball up and would find the right people and then for Michael it was, ‘OK, take us home.
Despite having major resistance, to begin with, Kukoc was able to find a way and make a mark in the league. There is no doubt that the Croatian superstar played a major role in the Bulls dynasty.