Even without the boost from a popular ESPN series, the Chicago Bulls’ latest dance looms large in basketball lore. The 1997-98 campaign was the last time Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen and Dennis Rodman touched hardwood together. They of course won the championship, solidifying their status as one of the greatest teams to ever play. During the celebrations, however, Steve Kerr decided someone else deserved the spotlight.
After sealing their sixth title, Phil Jackson invited his team to dinner and invited each player to toast. At that moment, Kerr shouted Toni Kukoc at Jordan, Pippen, or whoever else.
Michael Jordan left the Chicago Bulls in style by winning the 1998 NBA Championship
In the world of sports, it’s common to say that the franchise is bigger than any player. During the 1990s, however, the Chicago Bulls were synonymous with Michael Jordan.
MJ, of course, joined the pro ranks in 1984 and immediately made an impact. While it took him awhile to reach the top of the NBA – the Detroit Pistons and turned out to be a first roadblock – Jordan ultimately lifted the Bulls to the top. The club won the championships in 1991, 1992 and 1993 and then, shockingly, His Airness retired.
After a brief stint in baseball, however, Jordan returned to hardwood. The Bulls picked up where they left off, winning the 1996 and 1997 championships. This set the stage for the now iconic 1997-98 campaign.
With changes on the cards – MJ, Phil Jackson, Scottie Pippen and Dennis Rodman would all leave after this season – the Bulls mounted one final charge for the title. They would, of course, send the Utah Jazz, claiming a sixth ring and ending their own dynasty in style.
Steve Kerr paid tribute to Toni Kukoc after 1998 NBA title
After this championship, Phil Jackson brought the Bulls team together to celebrate a job well done. Considering the personnel changes that were on the agenda, this gathering probably turned out to be rather sentimental.
“A few days after the Bulls won their sixth championship, Phil Jackson hosted a dinner for the players, coaches and their wives at a restaurant in Chicago,” said Zach Lowe of ESPN (H / T ABC 7 Chicago) . “Halfway through, he brought the players together in a private space. They were seated in a circle, drinks and cigars in hand. Everyone made a toast.
While it’s easy to praise Jordan – he was, of course, the main man and planned to retire for the second time – Jackson, Pippen, or Rodman, Steve Kerr had someone else. on your mind. When it was his turn to speak, the guard shone the spotlight on a less prominent member of the squad.
“I said a toast to Toni [Kukoc]”Kerr explained.” No one had to go through what they did – pressure from Michael [Jordan] and Scottie [Pippen] to make a living. Michael and Scottie are all over him about being Jerry [Krause]this is the guy. And just Toni [wanted] to play. And so I just toasted Toni, because I thought he was such a great player. I wanted him to know how much he meant to our team.
Toni Kukoc may not have had the star power of Jordan and Pippen, but he was a capable pro who deserved recognition
In the grand scheme of NBA history, few men can compete with Jordan and Pippen in name recognition. Although Toni Kukoc is no exception to this reality, he has had a successful career.
After making a name for himself in Europe, Kukoc moved to North America and joined the Bulls before the 1993-94 campaign. The forward turned out to be a solid option coming off the bench, but he also had enough talent to get into the starting lineup when needed. In the last round of the club’s championship, this ability proved invaluable.
“Toni was instrumental in when Pip missed the first 30 games (in 1997-98),” Phil Jackson said, according to an NBA.com article. “He was a great player who was overlooked.” For reference, Kukoc averaged 13.3 points, 4.4 rebounds and 4.2 assists per outing that season and started 17 of 21 playoff games.
If you combine his NBA CV with his overseas accomplishments, Toni Kukoc has achieved quite a career. Steve Kerr knew it. Phil Jackson knew it. And, even today, discerning basketball fans know it.
Statistics courtesy of Basketball-Reference.
RELATED: Alex Caruso To Make More Money In Four Years With The Bulls Than Scottie Pippen In A Dozen Years In Chicago