Sunday, 12 September 2021

Toni Kukoč Officially Becomes A Member of the Basketball Hall of Fame

September 12, 2021 - In a ceremony held last night, Toni Kukoč officially became an enshrined member of the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame.

The ceremony of the induction of the class of 2021 was held in Springfield, Massachusetts. The Split-born former basketball star was joined by other superstars - Chris Bosh, Yolanda Griffith, Lauren Jackson, Paul Pierce, Ben Wallace, and Chris Webber, and coaches, referees and contributors Rick Adelman, Bill Russell, Jay Wright, Val Ackerman, Howard Garfinkel, Cotton Fitzsimmons, Bob Dandridge, Pearl Moore and Clarence "Fats" Jenkins. As we've previously written, Kukoč was introduced to the Hall of Fame by his former team-mate, Michael Jordan, who recently visited Toni's home town of Split, and Jerry Reinsdorf, Chicago Bulls owner for the past 35 years.

In his emotional speech, Toni remembered his childhood in Split and the importance of Hajduk Split in his youth. He also mentioned numerous coaches and other people who have helped him become the biggest European basketball superstar before his move to the NBA. He also remembered the 1992 Olympics finals, in which Croatia played against the original (some would say, the only) Dream Team, and how much Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen "kicked his butt" in the game, which made him work even harder to make sure he'd become a valuable Chicago Bulls player. That story is told wonderfully and with a lot of humour in the last year's hit documentary series "Last Dance". Toni thanked his former teammates and now both Hall of Famers, Dino Rađa and Vlade Divac, for being present at this ceremony.

You can see the entirety of Toni Kukoč's speech below:

Toni Kukoč started his basketball career in Split's Jugoplastika team, and he became Yugoslavia champion four times and won the European championship three times in a row (the team changed its name). After playing for Benetton Treviso for two years, he went to the Chicago Bulls, who drafted him as the 29th overall pick in 1990. With Bulls, he won the three NBA championships, and in 1996 was given the title of the "Sixth man of the year". After the Bulls, he played for the Philadelphia 76ers, Atlanta Hawks, and Milwaukee Bucks. With the Yugoslavia and Croatia national teams, he won two Olympic silver medals (1988 in Seoul and 1992 in Barcelona), became a World Champion (1990 in Argentina), and was also the MVP of that entire tournament. Toni retired from active basketball in 2006, and is currently a special advisor to the President and COO of the Bulls, Michael Reinsdorf.

With Toni's induction, Croatia is now the second nation, behind the USA, with the most people in the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall Of Fame! The list of Croatian Hall of Famers includes the late great players Krešimir Ćosić (inducted in 1996) and Dražen Petrović (2002), legendary coach Mirko Novosel (2007) and Toni's friend and long-time teammate Dino Rađa (2018). And there are some other names on the list of the Hall of Famers, such as George Mikan (inducted in the inaugural year, 1959!) and Rudy Tomjanovich (2020) who are known to be of Croatian descent. It will be interesting to see when the next Croatian player will become a member of the prestigious group since we have not had any major basketball success or any superstars for what feels like decades now.

Friday, 13 August 2021

Michael Jordan to Present Toni Kukoč at Basketball Hall of Fame Induction

August 13, 2021 - The legendary Michael Jordan will present Toni Kukoč at the Basketball Hall of Fame induction ceremony next month!

After it was announced in May that Toni Kukoč would be inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame in Springfield, Illinois, we learned on Thursday that one of the greatest basketball legends to live would introduce the Croatian basketballer to the Hall of Fame.

When talking about basketball greats, it's impossible to miss mentioning the legendary American basketball player and one of the greatest of all time, Michael Jordan, Kukoč's teammate on the Chicago Bulls. Jerry Reinsdorf, longtime owner of the Bulls, will join Jordan on stage with the former Croatia national team player during the ceremony on September 11, 2021, at the MassMutual Center. 

Along with Kukoč, owner of three NBA rings, the 2021 class includes Val Ackerman, Rick Adelman, Chris Bosh, Bob Dandridge, Cotton Fitzsimmons, Howard Garfinkel, Yolanda Griffith, Lauren Jackson, Clarence Jenkins, Pearl Moore, Paul Pierce, Bill Russell, Ben Wallace, Chris Webber, and Jay Wright.

Toni Kukoč will become the fifth Croat in the Basketball Hall of Fame after Krešimir Ćosić (1996), Dražen Petrović (2002), Mirko Novosel (2007) and Dino Rađa (2018).

Although he was a three-time NBA champion and winner of the award for the best sixth player in the strongest league globally, a league where he spent 13 years, Kukoč could not have a place in the Hall of Fame based on his NBA career. That is why he was nominated as a candidate for international basketball, and a special International Committee decides on its representative every year. It consists of seven members, and a nominee must receive six affirmative votes to be inducted into the Hall of Fame.

With the inclusion of Kukoč, Croatia became the country with the most representatives in the Hall of Fame after the USA. So far, it has been tied at the top with Serbia, which has four - Divac, Bora Stankovic, Aleksandar Nikolic, and Drazen Dalipagic.

 

Kukoč is the only basketball player in history who has not only won the European Champions Cup / Euroleague and the NBA ring three times but did so for three years in a row. During all three European titles with Jugoplastika, he was named the best player of the Final Four, winning two of the most prestigious European individual awards (Euroscar and Mister Europa) nine times. He also won four championships and two Yugoslav cups, as well as the Italian league and cup. In addition, he won the Olympic silver in Barcelona in 1992 and two European and one world bronze with the Croatia national team. He was also an Olympic silver medalist with Yugoslavia in 1988, won the world gold, two European gold, and one bronze and three gold with junior selections.

Source: HRT

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Sunday, 16 May 2021

Finally! Toni Kukoč to be Inducted into Basketball Hall of Fame!

May 16, 2021 - Toni Kukoč will finally be inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame this September! 

Index.hr reports that it was simply a matter of time, although it is not clear to anyone today why it all took so long. Toni Kukoč, a virtuoso from Split and the most trophy-winning Croatian basketball player of all time, will be part of the 2021 Hall of Fame class, which will be officially inducted in September in Springfield. 

Kukoč will enter the elite class in his eighth attempt, after the Chicago Bulls nominated him in 2014, and thus become the fifth Croat in the company of basketball immortals.

Before him, Krešimir Ćosić was admitted in 1996, Dražen Petrović in 2002, Mirko Novosel in 2007 and Dino Rađa in 2018.

Although he was a three-time NBA champion and winner of the award for the best sixth player in the strongest league globally, Kukoč could not have a place in the Hall of Fame based on his NBA career. That is why he was nominated as a candidate from international basketball, and a special International Committee decides on its representative every year. It consists of seven members, and a nominee must receive six affirmative votes to be inducted into the Hall of Fame.

 

With the inclusion of Kukoč, Croatia became the country with the most representatives in the Hall of Fame after the USA. So far, it has been tied at the top with Serbia, which has four - Divac, Bora Stankovic, Aleksandar Nikolic, and Drazen Dalipagic.

Kukoč deserved his place in the Hall of Fame not only with fantastic games and numerous trophies, but also as one of the six European pioneers - along with Dražen, Divac, Rađa, and Lithuanians Sabonis and Marčiulionis - who led the way for hundreds of non-American basketball players to the strongest league in the world. His style of play made him a forerunner of newer stars like Dirk Nowitzki, Kevin Durant, or Nikola Jokić - tall players who know everything about the ball and go far beyond the former expectations of such basketball players.

But his trophies are a story unto themselves. Kukoč is the only basketball player in history who has not only won the European Champions Cup / Euroleague and the NBA ring three times but did so for three years in a row. During all three European titles with Jugoplastika, he was named the best player of the Final Four, winning two of the most prestigious European individual awards (Euroscar and Mister Europa) nine times. He also won four championships and two Yugoslav cups, as well as the Italian league and cup. He won the Olympic silver in Barcelona in 1992 and two European and one world bronze with the Croatia national team. With Yugoslavia, he was also an Olympic silver from 1988, a world gold, two European gold, and one bronze and three gold with junior selections.

He spent 13 years in the NBA, but he spent the best ones on arguably the best NBA team of all time in which he modestly accepted a supporting role, although he would be a major star in most other teams. That’s why he didn’t have spectacular statistics, and that’s why Americans will never appreciate him as much as they should.

This recognition will remind them of what we in Europe have known for decades - what a player Toni Kukoč was.

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Friday, 22 May 2020

Toni Kukoc Opens Up about Michael Jordan Documentary 'The Last Dance'

May 22, 2020 - ‘The Last Dance’ documentary about Michael Jordan and the legendary generation of the Chicago Bulls broke all rating records, but at the same time provoked fierce reactions. A lot of 'dirty' and hitherto unknown details have come to light, and among them, there are many related to Croatia's Toni Kukoc.

T.portal reports that 'The Last Dance' revealed how difficult it was for Toni Kukoc to fight for a place in that team, and it was even harder for him to fit into that 'chosen society' and earn their respect. First of all, this applies to the main star, the inimitable Michael Jordan, but also others, especially Scottie Pippen.

Now, Toni Kukoc has given an interview to Greek Sport24 in which he revealed that he heard from Michael Jordan a few days ago.

"We talked a few days ago and I told him I was happy the documentary was coming to an end. You know why? Because in the last three weeks, I have received more phone calls than in the previous 20 years," said Kukoc and looked back on his years with the Chicago Bulls. The fact is that not everyone could stand what Jordan did to his teammates...

"He was no different to me and he treated us all the same. He simply pushes you to the extremes. There was a good reason for that because our team had the highest expectations. It wasn’t easy and sure not everyone could handle it all. There was a hierarchy and everyone knew their place in the team and that was always the case," Kukoc recalled and revealed what Drazen Petrovic advised him to do. Namely, it was strange to everyone why Kukoc did not go to the Bulls when he was drafted in 1990, but signed for Benetton and stayed there for two years.

"Drazen Petrovic advised me to do that and I think it was a good decision," Kukoc revealed.

Kukoc recalled meeting Jordan and Pippen at the 1992 Barcelona Olympics.

"I knew it was a matter of time before we met and that was in Barcelona and it was twice, in the group stage and the final. I didn’t play well the first game because I was guarded by Jordan and Pippen, the two best defensive players in the world. I don't think many people would survive that," said Kukoc, who arrived in the Bulls after Michael Jordan temporarily retired from basketball.

"The fact that he wasn't there for a year and a half made it a lot easier for me because I got more minutes. As soon as Jordan returned, I realized how much it helped me to grow without him because I already played in three different positions," explained Toni Kukoc, who was asked by Greek journalists to name who he thinks is the best basketball player of all time.

"It is very easy for me to answer that question," said Kukoc.

"Michael Jordan has made basketball a global sport. It’s hard to compare LeBron James and this era when Magic Johnson and Larry Bird ruled. It's hard to choose the biggest, but I prefer Jordan because I think he would be the best in every era."

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Saturday, 1 February 2020

NBA Features 'Overlooked Star' Toni Kukoc

February 1, 2020 - Toni Kukoc, the famous Split basketball player who became one of the first established European players in the NBA, is once again in the NBA spotlight.

Anyone that followed the NBA in the 90s knows that Croatian basketball player Toni Kukoc contributed to the golden era of the Chicago Bulls - the age of Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen, and Dennis Rodman. With the Bulls, Kukoc won the NBA championship three times. He then went on to win the NBA Sixth Man of the Year Award in 1996, and was the 4th and currently the last player to win the award and the NBA title in the same year. 

Today, Kukoc still plays a part in the NBA - he is the Special Advisor to Chicago Bulls owner Jerry Reinsdorf. 

Despite his success, Kukoc is still often overlooked as one of the NBA greats. Author Sam Smith tries to persuade readers that Kukoc was far more vital to the NBA then he’s given credit for.

“There's this misconception about the world's most famous basketball team, the 1992 Olympics Dream Team of NBA legends, Michael Jordan, Larry Bird, Magic Johnson, Charles Barkley, Scottie Pippen, Karl Malone, David Robinson, Patrick Ewing and the rest. The conventional wisdom is that the team was assembled to display the brilliance of basketball in the United States.

And, to some extent, that is accurate.

But the overriding reason why USA Basketball began scrambling around to gather its greatest was because they'd pretty much given up trying to beat Vlade Divac, Dino Radja, Drazen Petrovic and Toni Kukoc, the core of the Yugoslavian national team,” author Smith begins. 

In the piece, Smith highlights Kukoc’s European basketball career and international success with Yugoslavia. 

“Kukoc's international resume is almost a hall of fame of its own. In addition to the medals from those victories over top U.S. teams, Kukoc was repeatedly honored in Europe.

Kukoc won the European Player of the Year award five times. He won the media's player of the year award as Mr. Europe four times. He led his team to three straight European championships and was final four MVP three times. He was a four-time Yugoslavian league champion and MVP of the team that included Petrovic and Radja, the latter his boyhood neighbor. He was MVP of the world championships in Argentina. He was the slickest ballhandler this side of Magic Johnson and was known as, ‘White Magic.’"

His Yugoslavian teammate Vlade Divac even chimed in.

"His impact in the NBA was great. Especially that second threepeat; he was a main guy, Sixth Man winner," noted Divac. "He was someone who sacrificed. He was a big, big thing in Europe and he came here and sacrificed to be a role player.”

Divac goes on to say that Toni should have been inducted in the NBA Hall of Fame even before him or Dino (Radja). 

Sam Smith believes that now is his time.

You can read the full article on the NBA website here.

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Saturday, 21 December 2019

Toni Kukoc and Giuseppe Giergia Nominated for Basketball Hall of Fame

December 21, 2019 - Two legendary Croatian basketball players Toni Kukoc (51) and Giuseppe ‘Pino’ Giergia (82) have been listed among the 50 candidates nominated for the Basketball Hall of Fame in Springfield, Illinois. 

T.portal writes that for Toni Kukoc - one of the best Croatian basketball players of all time - this is the third nomination in total, while Giergia is among the candidates nominated for the first time. Serbian coach Ranko Zeravica is also on the list of 50 nominees.

Other celebrity players on the list include Kobe Bryant, Tim Duncan, Kevin Garnett and Chris Bosh, and coaches Rick Adelman, George Karl, Dick Motta and Rudy Tomjanovich.

During the NBA All-star weekend, from February 14-16, a shortlist of 12 names will be known and the final selection will be held in April 2020.

Kresimir Cosic, Drazen Petrovic, Mirko Novosel and Dino Rada are the Croatian players who have entered the Hall of Fame so far.

According to analysts, Kukoc, who is a three-time NBA champion with the Chicago Bulls and left a deep mark on European and world basketball, has never been closer to joining the Hall of Fame. Still, this is his third nomination.

“For every athlete, entering the Hall of Fame is a tribute to your sports career and all you have done. The Americans have made this very clear; you have to have success behind you, a handful of medals won and only then can you be nominated,” said 82-year-old Giergia, who still plays basketball with his friends once a week.

When he heard the news that he was nominated for the Hall of Fame, where his former teammate and good friend Kresimir Cosic holds a spot, he was proud.

"I always said what I think, so everyone knows that because of the late Kreso and myself, who won trophies and gold medals with Zadar and the Yugoslav national team - Zadar was given the epithet of the ‘city of basketball’. Everything else is onions and water. Look at where our basketball is today,” Giergia added.

Giuseppe 'Pino' Giergia began his career at KK Zadar, where he played for 18 consecutive seasons. With Zadar,  Giergia won the Yugoslav League five times, the Cup once, and for Yugoslavia, he won the silver medal at the 1963 and 1967 FIBA World Cups, and the EuroBasket in 1965.

ToniKukoc, on the other hand, after an incredibly successful career in Europe which saw him win the EuroLeague three times with Jugoplastika and be named the EuroLeague Final Four MVP, he became NBA champions with the Chicago Bulls three times and was named the NBA Sixth Man of the Year. And that’s just part of it. 

Recall, the final selection of new Hall of Fame residents will be announced during the NCAA (Final Four) finals in Atlanta in early April 2020, while the Hall of Fame induction ceremony itself will take place on August 29 in Springfield.

You can see the full list of nominees here.

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Tuesday, 19 December 2017

Meet the Sports Stars of Split: Toni Kukoč

A look at one of the greatest-ever Croatian basketball players and part of the Chicago Bulls golden dynasty - Toni Kukoč. 

Thursday, 14 April 2016

Bojan Bogdanović Closes the NBA Season in Style; Questions Raised About Croatian National Team

Bogdanović finished the season by equalizing one more record set by his idol, the late Dražen Petrović.

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