Toni Kukoč (pronounced [kukotʃ]; born September 18, 1968) is a retired Croatian professional basketball player. Kukoč was renowned for his versatility and passing ability; although his natural position was small forward, he played all five positions on the court with prowess and demonstrated court vision and an outside shooting touch that were seldom found in players of his height. After a highly successful period in European basketball, Kukoč was one of the first established European stars to play in the National Basketball Association (NBA).
Kukoč grew up in Split, Croatia. His father loved sports, having played football as goalkeeper in a lower rank 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. He soon switched to basketball.
Kukoč started playing for his home town club, Jugoplastika Split, at the age of 17. He achieved significant success during his time at the club, winning the prestigious Euroleague with the team three years in a row (1989–1991). His team won the Triple Crown in 1990 and 1991. Kukoč was awarded as the Euroleague Final Four MVP both times.
Afterwards, he played for Benetton Treviso and won the Italian Championship in 1992 and Italian Cup in 1993. He also played in the European Championship 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," and "the Croatian Sensation." Throughout the 1990s, he won several European Basketball Player of the Year Awards.
Having been drafted by the NBA's Chicago Bulls in 1990, he 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. While disappointed at the time that he could not play with Jordan, Toni made his NBA debut on November 5, 1993. Jordan unretired and returned to the Bulls in March 1995.
The 6'11" (2.11 m) Kukoč came off the bench in 1993–94 behind small forward Scottie Pippen and power forward Horace Grant, though Kukoč could play shooting guard and center as well. Kukoč put up a solid rookie campaign, averaging double-digit scoring and earning a berth on the 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 rookie 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 7.
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, granting 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. He also assisted the Bulls to a 25-game turnaround and the best record in league history at 72–10, as well as the fourth championship in team history. Kukoč is currently the last player to win the NBA Sixth Man of the Year Award and the NBA title in the same year.
In 1997 and 1998, Kukoč again came off the bench as sixth man as the Bulls won their fifth and sixth NBA titles. Once again, he was the team's third-leading scorer.
In early 1999, the team was broken up, and Kukoč was one of the only players from their championship years that the Bulls retained. In the lockout-shortened 1998-99 season, he led the team in scoring, rebounding, and assists. During the 1999–2000 season as Chicago continued their rebuilding scheme, Kukoč was traded to the Philadelphia 76ers for whom he played briefly before he was soon traded again to the Atlanta Hawks. After a short stint with the Hawks, he finally found himself in a more suitable fit with the Milwaukee Bucks via a third trade.
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 town of Highland Park, Illinois.
He was on the teams that won the FIBA World Junior Championship (1987 for Yugoslavia), two Olympic silver medals (1988 for Yugoslavia and 1992 for Croatia), and the FIBA World Championship (1990 for Yugoslavia), in which he was selected the tournament MVP.
He and his wife Renata purchased their Highland Park home just after arriving in Chicago in 1993. After undergoing hip replacement surgery in 2009, he now plays at least one round of golf daily, and won Croatia's national amateur championship in 2011. His son, Marin, played for Highland Park High School's varsity basketball team, then enrolled at the University of Pennsylvania. His daughter, Stela, plays volleyball.
Awards and accomplishments
- 3× Euroleague champion (1989–1991)
- 4× National Championship of Yugoslavia (1988–1991)
- 2× Yugoslav Basketball Cup (1990–1991)
- 2× Triple Crown (1990–1991)
- 1985 FIBA Europe Under-16 Championship: Gold
- 1986 FIBA Europe Under-18 Championship: Gold
- 1987 FIBA Under-19 World Championship: Gold
- EuroBasket 1987: Bronze
- 1988 Summer Olympics: Silver
- EuroBasket 1989: Gold
- 1990 FIBA World Championship: Gold
- EuroBasket 1991: Gold
- 1986 FIBA Europe Under-18 Championship: MVP
- 1987 FIBA Under-19 World Championship: MVP
- 3× Croatian Sportsman of the Year (1989–1991)
- FIBA World Championship MVP (1990)
- 3× Euroleague Final Four MVP (1990, 1991, 1993)
- 5× Euroscar European Player of the Year Award (1990–1991, 1994, 1996, 1998)
- 4× Mister Europa Player of the Year (1990–1992, 1996)
- EuroBasket MVP (1991)
- FIBA's 50 Greatest Players (1991)
- Franjo Bučar State Award for Sport (1992)
- NBA All-Rookie Second Team (1994)
- EuroBasket 1995: All-Tournament Team
- NBA Sixth Man of the Year (1996)
- 50 Greatest Euroleague Contributors
- "Toni Kukoc, the Pink Panther of basketball". Euroleague. March 4, 2013. Retrieved 2013-08-17.
- "All The Final Fours 1988-2011". Euroleague. 01/06/2013. Retrieved 2013-08-17. Check date values in:
- 'Croatian Sensation' didn't come to U.S. to replace Jordan
- "All she wrote? Kukoc says 'it looks like I'm done'". ESPN.com. September 12, 2006. Retrieved 2007-07-11.
- 24cec.net Hall of fame - Toni Kukoč.
- Taylor, Jeff (2011-07-19). "Vrankovic Calls on Toni Kukoc Again". EuroBasket2011.com. FIBA Europe. Retrieved 2011-07-20.
- Ivy League - USATODAY.com
- Marin Kukoc Stats, News, Videos, Highlights, Pictures, Bio - Pennsylvania Quakers - ESPN
- "Kukoc's stories have familiar rings". ESPN.com. Retrieved 13 March 2013.
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Toni Kukoč.|
- Profile at FIBAEurope.com
- Toni Kukoc at the Wayback Machine (archived April 15, 2009) at NBA.com
- Toni Kukoc at Basketball-Reference.com