Scottie Pippen recalls how Jerry Krause ‘paved the way for a lot of hell for Toni Kukoc’
“The Last Dance” has already given viewers a glimpse into the tensions between the players on the Chicago Bulls and former general manager Jerry Krause. The ESPN docu-series—which touches on the rise of the Bulls dynasty and chronicles the final year of that dynasty during the 1997-98 season—has been explicit in pitting Krause as an adversary to the likes of Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen, and Phil Jackson.
In Episode 5, Pippen spoke about Krause’s courtship of Toni Kukoc as the cause of the European star’s torment.
Krause and the Bulls refused to renegotiate Pippen’s contract before he, and Michael Jordan, left to compete for the “Dream Team” at the 1992 Summer Olympics in Barcelona, mostly because Krause wanted to save money to pry Kukoc from Europe.
Naturally, Team USA would square off against Kukoc’s Croatia squad during group play, and Pippen and Jordan made a point of hounding the future Bull:
“Jerry Krause paved the way for a lot of hell for Toni Kukoc,” said Pippen. “Not only was it me and Michael but every guy on that Olympic team looked at that kid and felt like ‘he may not even think about coming to the NBA after he played against us.’ We were going to do everything possible to make Jerry look bad.”
“I still hear talk that [Toni Kukoc] just had a bad game,” Pippen added. “He was nervous but if he’s that nervous then he can’t come to the NBA and play games.”
Kukoc only scored four points in that contest, though he did have a better showing when the two sides met for a rematch in the gold medal game.
Scottie Pippen and Michael Jordan might have had their own way of sending a message to the front office, but Kukoc would become an invaluable member of Chicago’s second three-peat.
Kukoc was named the NBA’s Sixth Man of the Year during the 1995-96 season, and also provided the Bulls with a number of huge games in the playoffs, including Game 7 of the 1998 Eastern Conference Finals against the Indiana Pacers.