Who is Toni Kukoc?
Toni Kukoc 6-11 forward was a complementary piece on the 1997-98 team, but that does not do his story justice. He was one among the foremost accomplished European players of all time – and one among the targets for Jordan and Pippen due to their angst toward Bulls head Jerry Krause.
Kukoc was named the NBA’s Sixth Man of the Year during the 1995-96 season, and also provided the Bulls with a variety of giant games within the playoffs, including Game 7 of the 1998 Eastern Conference Finals against the Indiana Pacers.
What about Toni Kukoc?
The 10-part ESPN documentary “The Last Dance” continues to chronicle the Chicago Bulls’ last championship run, and Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen, and Dennis Rodman are the main target through four episodes.
That has left an important member of these Bulls teams largely on the sideline so far: Toni Kukoc. Kukoc, one among the primary European superstars to form the move to the NBA, is introduced Episode 5 on Sunday. The Bulls drafted him within the second round in 1990, making him the personification of Jordan’s and Pippen’s disdain for Krause, and he eventually settled in because the Bulls’ third-leading scorer during the 1997-98 season.
Toni Kukoc: 5 things to understand about the previous Bulls star
1. Toni Kukoc was one of the foremost decorated European basketball players at the time.
The modern NBA is a world game, and a few of its brightest stars come from Europe, like Giannis Antetokounmpo of the Bucks, Luka Doncic of the Mavericks, and Nikola Jokic of the Nuggets. During the 1990s and even at the turn of the century, however, a stigma existed for many international players that they were “too soft” to play within the NBA.
Kukoc began playing basketball for his hometown club in Split, Croatia, at 17 years old in 1985. The 6-11 forward quickly developed into a star player and earned the nickname “The Waiter”. He was compared to Magic Johnson for his passing skills.
Kukoc would gain more notoriety for his role on Yugoslavia’s loaded national team, which won the 1990 FIBA World Championship in Argentina. That list featured Vlade Divac and Drazen Petrovic, and that they beat Team EE. USA 99-91 within the semifinals.
Kukoc was a part of three straight FIBA European Champions Cup teams from 1988-91, and he was named the MVP of the tournament twice.
Kukoc was named to the all-tournament team, but he was still barely known within the us outside of Chicago.
2. Jerry Krause loved Kukoc
The Bulls selected Kukoc with the No. 29 pick within the 1990 NBA Draft. Krause had strong feelings about Kukoc due to his ability to play within the backcourt at 6-11.
Despite the hype, Kukoc wouldn’t sign with Chicago until 1993, when he was 25 years old.
Tensions between Krause, Jordan, and Pippen sparked resentment by the Bulls stars towards Kukoc, which manifested itself at the 1992 Summer Olympics in Barcelona.
3. He remained with the Bulls after the ‘last dance’ and is one among the team’s special advisers.
Kukoc played an important role with the Bulls during the Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen years. He was with the Bulls from 1993 to 2000.
The documentary makes it clear this was the swan song for the Bulls core, but Kukoc is one among the few who remained after the dynasty broke apart.
Kukoc’s first season with Chicago in 1993-94 coincided with Jordan’s retirement. The Bulls made it to the Eastern Conference finals, and Kukoc could be best remembered for a buzz that hit the Knicks. Pippen asked to be sent to the bank when he wasn’t involved in the work.
In those years, he averaged 14.1 points, 4.8 rebounds and 4.2 assists. He was a neighborhood of three NBA championship teams, won the 1996 Sixth Man of the Year award, and was named to the 1993-94 All-Rookie team.
4. He was picked over Scottie Pippen to require the last shot during a 1994 game
In the final seconds of a 1994 game, with the Jordan-less Bulls down 2-0 within the series against the Knicks, Jackson drew up a play for the game-winning shot.
Kukoc hit the game-winning turnaround shot.
Recalling the instant to ESPN, Kukoc said he wasn’t mad at Scottie Pippen for his outburst.
“It’s just something that happened. Everyone has an ego. Even someone that does not play one minute has an ego. i do not take anything faraway from Scottie Pippen for that.”
5. KUKOC’S LASTING IMPACT
Kukoc’s success within the NBA paved the way for a few of the opposite European stars to thrive within the NBA like Dirk Nowitzki, Manu Ginobili, and Tony Parker. Current Dallas Mavericks star Luka Doncic has also received comparisons to Kukoc.
“Back then it had been very difficult for we Europeans to convince everyone we could play,” Divac told NBA.com in January 2020. “Now almost half the league are internationals. We had to fight for our time, for the way we played. But if you check out how basketball has evolved, it’s more the sport that suits us now, passing, transition, shooting. Which is why Toni is one of the foremost important people that changed the sport .”
Source: sporting news and Fox News