From the perspective of Scottie Pippen and Michael Jordan in 1992, Toni Kukoc didn’t represent a future teammate and critical cog to the second three-peat.
He instead represented a foreign player who had proved nothing in the NBA and served as the latest apple of late general manager Jerry Krause’s eye.
Krause expertly drafted Kukoc in the second round of the 1990 draft and then spent three seasons wooing the Croatian star to leave his lucrative European career behind for the NBA. When Pippen and Jordan suited up for the original Dream Team at the 1992 Barcelona Olympics, they salivated — and tag-teamed — at the opportunity to guard Kukoc.
“Toni Kukoc became a great teammate. And I love Toni Kukoc for who he is,” Jordan said in Episode 5 of ESPN’s “The Last Dance” documentary. “But the way he was introduced to me and Scottie, I didn’t appreciate it. And it drove my energy.”
Added Pippen: “It wasn’t anything personal about Toni. But we were going to do everything we could to make Jerry look bad.”
Jordan and Pippen's undivided attention resulted in Kukoc suffering through a 2-for-10 outing with seven turnovers in the United States’ 103-70 annihilation of Croatia in a preliminary round game.
That Kukoc rebounded and showed enough fortitude to post 16 points and nine assists under similar defensive pressure in the gold medal game foreshadowed the toughness he later contributed to the Bulls.