Toni Kukoč (pronounced [kukotʃ]; born September 18, 1968) is a Croatian former professional basketball player who serves as Special Advisor to Jerry Reinsdorf, the owner of the Chicago Bulls. After a highly successful period in European basketball, he was one of the first established European stars to play in the National Basketball Association (NBA). Kukoč played for four NBA teams between 1993 and 2006, winning the NBA Sixth Man of the Year Award in 1996.[2] He is a three-time NBA champion, having won championships with the Michael Jordan-led Chicago Bulls in 1996, 1997 and 1998.

Toni Kukoč
Kukoč in 2023
Chicago Bulls
PositionSpecial advisor
LeagueNBA
Personal information
Born (1968-09-18) September 18, 1968 (age 55)
Split, SFR Yugoslavia
NationalityCroatian
Listed height6 ft 11 in (2.11 m)
Listed weight235 lb (107 kg)[1]
Career information
NBA draft1990: 2nd round, 29th overall pick
Selected by the Chicago Bulls
Playing career1985–2006
PositionSmall forward / power forward
Number7
Career history
1985–1991Jugoplastika
1991–1993Benetton Treviso
19932000Chicago Bulls
20002001Philadelphia 76ers
20012002Atlanta Hawks
20022006Milwaukee Bucks
Career highlights and awards
Career NBA statistics
Points9,810 (11.6 ppg)
Rebounds3,555 (4.2 rpg)
Assists3,119 (3.7 apg)
Stats Edit this at Wikidata at NBA.com
Stats Edit this at Wikidata at Basketball-Reference.com
Basketball Hall of Fame as player
FIBA Hall of Fame as player

Kukoč is renowned for his versatility and passing ability. Although his natural position was small forward, the 6 ft 11 in (2.11 m) Kukoč played multiple positions and demonstrated court vision and an outside shooting touch that were seldom found in players of his height. He also enjoyed success in international play, winning Olympic silver medals in 1988 (playing for Yugoslavia) and 1992 (playing for Croatia). Kukoč and Vassilis Spanoulis are the only players in history to receive the EuroLeague Final Four MVP honor on three occasions.[3] He was elected to the FIBA Hall of Fame in 2017[4] and the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 2021.[5] In 2023, he was selected to be in the inaugural class of the Chicago Bulls' Ring of Honor.[6]

Early life edit

Kukoč grew up as a youth in Split, Croatia. His father was devoted to athletics, having played football as a goalkeeper in a lower ranked local club. Possessing excellent motor skills, young Toni grew up participating in different sports, including table tennis and football. He especially excelled in table tennis as an adolescent, winning different youth category titles.[7] He soon switched to basketball as his sport of choice.

Professional career edit

 
Kukoč (left) celebrating Split's second consecutive continental title with teammate Dino Rađa after beating FC Barcelona at the European Champions Cup Final Four final game in Zaragoza on April 19, 1990.

Europe edit

Kukoč began playing for his home town club, KK Jugoplastika, at the age of 17. He achieved significant success during his time with the club, winning the prestigious EuroLeague as the team recorded three winning year seasons consecutively (1989–1991). His team won the Triple Crown in 1990 and 1991.[8] Kukoč was awarded as the EuroLeague Final Four MVP both times.

Afterwards, he played for Benetton Treviso and won the Italian League championship in 1992 and the Italian Cup in 1993. He also played in the EuroLeague final in 1993, winning the EuroLeague Final Four MVP once again. He was nicknamed "the White Magic", "the Spider from Split", "the Pink Panther", "the Waiter", "Euro Magic", and "the Croatian Sensation".[9] Throughout the 1990s, he won several European Basketball Player of the Year Awards.

Chicago Bulls edit

After being drafted by the NBA's Chicago Bulls in 1990, Kukoč continued to play in Europe, until finally reporting to the Bulls in 1993, when the team had just finished its first three-peat and had lost Michael Jordan to retirement. Although disappointed that he could not play with Jordan, Kukoč made his NBA debut on November 5, 1993.[10]

The 6 ft 11 in (2.11 m) Kukoč came off the bench in 1993–94 behind small forward Scottie Pippen and power forward Horace Grant. On January 21, 1994, in a game against the Indiana Pacers, Reggie Miller made a mid-range jumper with 0.8 seconds remaining to give the Pacers a 95–93 lead. Scottie Pippen inbounded the ball to Kukoc, who hit a three-point jumper at the buzzer to give the Bulls the win, 96–95. Kukoč put up a solid rookie season, averaging double-digit scoring and earning a berth on the NBA All-Rookie Second Team.

On May 13, 1994, at the end of Game 3 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals, the Bulls and the New York Knicks were tied at 102 with 1.8 seconds left. Bulls coach Phil Jackson designed the last play for Kukoč, with Scottie Pippen charged with inbounding the basketball. Pippen was so angered by Jackson's decision to not let him take the potential game-winner that he refused to leave the bench and re-enter the game when the timeout was over. Kukoč did hit the game-winner, a 23-foot fadeaway jumper at the buzzer, though the Bulls eventually lost the series in seven games.

After Grant left in the offseason, Kukoč moved into the starting lineup and finished the 1994–95 season second on the Bulls in scoring, rebounds and assists, behind Pippen. Furthermore, Michael Jordan would return to the Bulls in March, fulfilling Kukoč's wish to play alongside him.

For the 1995–96 season, the Bulls were bolstered by both Jordan's return to full form and the offseason acquisition of exceptional rebounder Dennis Rodman. With Pippen still at small forward, coach Phil Jackson saw it best to have Kukoč continue to be a bench player. Kukoč was third on the team in scoring (behind Jordan and Pippen) and was rewarded for his efforts with the NBA Sixth Man of the Year Award.[11] He also assisted the Bulls to a 25-game turnaround and the best record in league history at the time at 72–10 (later surpassed by the 2015–16 Golden State Warriors), as well as the fourth championship in team history. Kukoč was the 4th and is currently the last player to win the NBA Sixth Man of the Year Award and the NBA title in the same year having joined Kevin McHale, Bill Walton, and Bobby Jones in accomplishing that feat.

In 1997 NBA Finals, the Bulls defeated the Utah Jazz in six games, during which at the end of Game 6, Kukoč received the ball from Scottie Pippen and sealed the victory with a dunk to make the score 90–86 with just 0.6 seconds left. A year later, the Bulls defeated the Jazz again in the 1998 NBA Finals. In both series, Kukoč came off the bench as the sixth man, and was the team's leading scorer off the bench.

Career ending and retirement edit

During the 1998–99 offseason, Jordan retired, Pippen was traded to the Houston Rockets, and Jackson's contract expired and took a break from coaching, effectively breaking up the Bulls' dynasty. Kukoč was the highest-scoring player from the Bulls' previous season that remained with the team.

 
Kukoč with the Bucks in 2005

In the lockout-shortened 1998–99 season, he led the team in scoring, rebounding, and assists. On February 16, 2000 as Chicago continued their rebuilding scheme, Kukoč was traded to the Philadelphia 76ers in a three-team deal involving the Golden State Warriors that sent Bruce Bowen, John Starks and a 2000 first-round pick to the Bulls. The following season, he was dealt to the Atlanta Hawks, along with Nazr Mohammed, Pepe Sánchez, and Theo Ratliff, in a blockbuster deal that sent Dikembe Mutombo and Roshown McLeod to the 76ers.

After a short stint with the Hawks, he was traded to the Milwaukee Bucks, along with Leon Smith, in a deal for Glenn Robinson. During the 2003 NBA Playoffs, Kukoč averaged postseason career-highs of 14.8 points and 2.2 steals per game during a six game first round loss to the eventual Eastern Conference champion New Jersey Nets.[12] On September 12, 2006, Kukoč announced that he would retire from professional basketball if he could not be signed by either the Milwaukee Bucks or the Chicago Bulls for the 2006–07 NBA season. Although various NBA teams had shown interest in his services, Kukoč expressed a desire to be close to his residence in the city of Highland Park, Illinois.[13]

National team career edit

Yugoslavia edit

Kukoč was on the junior Yugoslavian Under-19 national team that won the 1987 FIBA Under-19 World Cup, where he was named the tournament MVP. He was also on the senior men's Yugoslavian national team that got the silver medal at the 1988 Summer Olympic Games. He was named the MVP of the 1990 FIBA World Championship, where he also won a gold medal.[14] With Yugoslavia, he also won the gold medal at the EuroBasket 1989 and the EuroBasket 1991. He was also named the MVP of the 1991 EuroBasket tournament.

Croatia edit

Kukoč went on to win a silver medal with Croatia at the 1992 Summer Olympic Games in Barcelona. He also won bronze medals at both the 1994 FIBA World Championship in Canada and at the 1995 EuroBasket in Greece.

NBA career statistics edit

Legend
  GP Games played   GS  Games started  MPG  Minutes per game
 FG%  Field goal percentage  3P%  3-point field goal percentage  FT%  Free throw percentage
 RPG  Rebounds per game  APG  Assists per game  SPG  Steals per game
 BPG  Blocks per game  PPG  Points per game  Bold  Career high
 †  Won an NBA championship

Regular season edit

Year Team GP GS MPG FG% 3P% FT% RPG APG SPG BPG PPG
1993–94 Chicago 75 8 24.1 .431 .271 .743 4.0 3.4 1.1 .4 10.9
1994–95 Chicago 81 55 31.9 .504 .313 .748 5.4 4.6 1.3 .2 15.7
1995–96‹See TfM› Chicago 81 20 26.0 .490 .403 .772 4.0 3.5 .8 .3 13.1
1996–97‹See TfM› Chicago 57 15 28.2 .471 .331 .770 4.6 4.5 1.1 .5 13.2
1997–98‹See TfM› Chicago 74 52 30.2 .455 .362 .708 4.4 4.2 1.0 .5 13.3
1998–99 Chicago 44 44 37.6 .420 .285 .740 7.0 5.3 1.1 .3 18.8
1999–2000 Chicago 24 23 36.2 .381 .231 .761 5.4 5.2 1.8 .8 18.0
1999–2000 Philadelphia 32 8 28.6 .438 .289 .673 4.5 4.4 1.0 .3 12.4
2000–01 Philadelphia 48 5 20.4 .458 .410 .591 3.4 1.9 .7 .1 8.0
2000–01 Atlanta 17 14 36.4 .492 .481 .681 5.7 6.2 .8 .3 19.7
2001–02 Atlanta 59 9 25.3 .419 .310 .712 3.7 3.6 .8 .3 9.9
2002–03 Milwaukee 63 0 27.0 .432 .361 .706 4.2 3.7 1.3 .5 11.6
2003–04 Milwaukee 73 0 20.8 .417 .292 .729 3.7 2.7 .8 .3 8.4
2004–05 Milwaukee 53 6 20.7 .410 .362 .721 3.0 3.0 .7 .2 5.6
2005–06 Milwaukee 65 0 15.7 .389 .306 .714 2.3 2.1 .5 .3 4.9
Career 846 259 26.3 .447 .335 .729 4.2 3.7 1.0 .3 11.6

Playoffs edit

Year Team GP GS MPG FG% 3P% FT% RPG APG SPG BPG PPG
1994 Chicago 10 0 19.4 .448 .421 .735 4.0 3.6 .5 .3 9.3
1995 Chicago 10 10 37.2 .477 .438 .692 6.8 5.7 1.0 .2 13.8
1996‹See TfM› Chicago 15 5 29.3 .391 .191 .838 4.2 3.9 .9 .3 10.8
1997‹See TfM› Chicago 19 0 22.3 .360 .358 .707 2.8 2.8 .7 .2 7.9
1998‹See TfM› Chicago 21 17 30.3 .486 .377 .645 3.9 2.9 1.2 .5 13.1
2000 Philadelphia 10 0 25.7 .419 .324 .588 3.1 1.7 1.0 .3 9.3
2003 Milwaukee 6 0 30.7 .492 .379 .700 4.2 3.7 2.2 .2 14.8
2004 Milwaukee 5 0 21.0 .500 .333 .500 2.8 .8 .6 .4 8.4
2006 Milwaukee 3 0 17.7 .571 .625 .500 1.7 3.0 .3 .0 7.3
Career 99 32 26.9 .440 .342 .697 3.9 3.2 1.0 .3 10.7

Personal life edit

Kukoč and his wife, Renata, purchased their Highland Park home, just after arriving in Chicago, in 1993. They are both American citizens.[15] After undergoing hip replacement surgery in 2009, he now plays at least one round of golf daily, and won Croatia's national amateur golf championship in 2011.[16] His son, Marin, played for Highland Park High School's varsity basketball team, and then enrolled at the University of Pennsylvania.[17][18] His daughter, Stela, played college volleyball at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio.[19]

Awards and accomplishments edit

KK Jugoplastika edit

Benetton Treviso edit

Chicago Bulls edit

National team edit

Yugoslavia edit

Croatia edit

Individual edit

Filmography edit

References edit

  1. ^ "Toni Kukoč". NBA.com. Retrieved December 10, 2020.
  2. ^ Melissa Isaacson (May 15, 1996). "Kukoc: Sixth Man Award 2nd Best To Starting Role". Chicago Tribune. Retrieved December 10, 2020.
  3. ^ "Spanoulis named bwin MVP of 2013 Final Four". March 21, 2024.
  4. ^ Dream Team, Shaq and Kukoc headline 2017 Class of FIBA Hall of Fame Inductees.
  5. ^ "Toni Kukoč selected to Hall of Fame Class of 2021". RSN. May 16, 2021. Retrieved June 20, 2021.
  6. ^ "Jordan headlines first Bulls' Ring of Honor class". ESPN.com. December 12, 2023. Retrieved December 13, 2023.
  7. ^ "Toni Kukoč, the Pink Panther of basketball". Euroleague. March 4, 2013. Archived from the original on June 28, 2013. Retrieved August 17, 2013.
  8. ^ "All The Final Fours 1988-2011". Euroleague. March 1, 2002. Retrieved August 19, 2015.
  9. ^ "The Bulletin - Google News Archive Search". news.google.com.
  10. ^ "Toni Kukoc Stats - Basketball-Reference.com". Basketball-Reference.com.
  11. ^ Zach Lowe (April 27, 2020). "Toni Kukoc talks about Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen, 'The Last Dance' and the Chicago Bulls". ESPN. Retrieved March 10, 2022.
  12. ^ Tony Kukoc Per Game Playoffs
  13. ^ "All she wrote? Kukoc says 'it looks like I'm done'". ESPN.com. September 12, 2006. Retrieved July 11, 2007.
  14. ^ 24cec.net Hall of fame - Toni Kukoč.
  15. ^ Isaacson, Melissa (June 9, 2011). "Toni Kukoc is right at home in Chicago". ESPN.com. ESPN. Retrieved September 13, 2023.
  16. ^ Taylor, Jeff (July 19, 2011). "Vrankovic Calls on Toni Kukoc Again". EuroBasket2011.com. FIBA Europe. Retrieved July 20, 2011.
  17. ^ "Ivy League". USA Today.
  18. ^ "Marin Kukoc". ESPN.com.
  19. ^ "Kukoc's stories have familiar rings". ESPN. June 9, 2011. Retrieved March 13, 2013.

External links edit