It goes without saying that the Chicago Bulls were the most dominant team in professional, and arguably even in all of sports, during the ‘90s. When many people think about the Bulls of that era, Michael Jordan is likely the first person that comes to mind. However, the NBA franchise also had a number of firm role players like Croatia native Toni Kukoc, who was recently elected to the National Basketball Hall of Fame. The veteran player, who also appeared on ESPN’s The Last Dance, seems to have enjoyed playing with his teammates, and he actually named Scottie Pippen as his favorite teammate over Jordan.
Toni Kukoc joined the Chicago Bulls at the start of the 1993-1994 NBA season, hot on the heels of Michael Jordan’s highly publicized retirement. As a result, he had the opportunity to really play alongside and watch teammate Scottie Pippen, who served as the Bulls’ leader in the post-Jordan era. Of course, he would get to play with Jordan when he returned to basketball in 1995. Kukoc recently explained that while Jordan was an amazing player, he really respected what Pippen brought to the game:
The recently named hall of famer wouldn’t be the first player to sing the praises of Scottie Pippen. Fellow teammate Steve Kerr also spoke highly of Pippen and even cited his disappointment with the way he was depicted in The Last Dance. Some argued that the doc made him look selfish off the court, for opting to put off surgery ahead of the 1997-1998 season. While speaking with the Chicago Bulls’ official website, Toni Kukoc went on to discus how much of a team-oriented player Pippen was on the floor:
Though Scottie Pippen stands as Toni Kukoc’s favorite Bulls teammate, he did still provide some additional praise for Michael Jordan. Kuko? admitted there were rare times when he wished Jordan would get him the ball, but he also said that his former teammate was team oriented in a different way. Kuko? also made note of how Jordan would come through with points when the team needed them.
Thinking back to Toni Kukoc’s first encounter with Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen, it may be a little hard to believe that he’d speak so highly of them, let alone have Jordan enshrine him in the hall of fame. Kukoc was originally drafted by the Bulls in 1990 and was highly coveted by upper management. As explained on The Last Dance, Jordan and Pippen didn’t take this too well so, when the 1992 U.S. men’s Olympic basketball team faced off with Croatia, they didn’t hold back against Kukoc, who was initially unaware of their feelings.
Of course, this is all just a testament to the passionate competition that comes with sports. And it also goes to show the lifelong bonds that can form between players. Both Scottie Pippen and Michael Jordan made Toni Kukoc a better player, and the results clearly speak for themselves.
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