Michael Jordan had predicted that Toni Kukoc would hit the game-winner during the infamous 1994 Scottie Pippen controversy
NBA legend Michael Jordan had taken a brief retirement from the game of basketball after his first 3-peat in 1993. The superstar cited his father’s death, followed by losing the will to play. His Airness would then try his stint in baseball.
Post Jordan’s exit, Scottie Pippen was the best player on the Bulls roster. Pippen was the new leader in the locker room. The same season Chicago would receive one of Croatia’s best exports in Toni Kukoc.
Despite MJ not being on the roster, the Bulls had a phenomenal year with 55 regular-season wins, clinching the 3rd spot in the Eastern Conference. After sweeping the Cavaliers in the first round, the Bulls would face the New York Knicks led by Patrick Ewing.
The series was marked by Scottie Pippen’s controversy that had the Bulls forward deliberately sitting out in a game-winning situation.
Michael Jordan had called Toni Kukoc’s game-winning shot during the eastern conference semi-finals.
The Knicks had won the first 2 games of the series. Thus Game 3 was a must-win for the Bulls. With 1.8 seconds remaining, Knicks center Patrick Ewing tied the game at 102. The Bulls, fortunately, had a time-out left.
During the break, head coach Phil Jackson entrusted Toni Kukoc with the responsibility of taking the game-winner. This decision had infuriated Bulls star Pippen so much that he decided to sit out during the final play, one of the most unsportsmanlike behavior by a star of Pippen’s caliber.
During the time, MJ had shited gears into playing baseball for the Chicago White Sox. However, he was up to date with the Bulls. Thus when Pippen decided to sit out, MJ had predicted to his teammates that Kukoc would sync the game-winner.
In Melissa Isaacson’s book, Transition Game: An Inside Look at Life With the Chicago Bulls, Jordan revealed that he had predicted Kukoc’s game-winner to his Sox teammates.
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.
MJ’s prediction proved to be on point as Kukoc would score on a contested jumper, giving the Bulls the win they so desperately needed.
To date, the above incident continues to haunt Pippen and is a stain on his otherwise decorated career. Though Pippen apologized to his teammates right after the game, the incident remains his critics’ favorite topic.