Zagreb, 16 May 2021 - One of the best Croatian basketball players of all time, Toni Kukoč, will be inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame in Springfield, USA, in September this year as the fifth Croatian in the company of basketball immortals. He will enter it from the eighth attempt, after being nominated by the Chicago Bulls back in 2014. Before him, the Croatian basketball notables inducted into the Hall of Fame were: Krešimir Ćosić in 1996, Dražen Petrović in 2002, Mirko Novosel in 2007 and Dino Rađa in 2018.
Toni Kukoč was born in Split on 18 September 1968. Before basketball, he was actively engaged in table tennis and football. He was the Champion of Dalmatia in 1977 for older pioneers in table tennis. He trained football in Hajduk, and there they considered him too high for a football player. He played in Jugoplastika from 1985 to 1991, with the club being called POP 84 in Toni's last year at Gripe.
In the "yellow from Gripe" jersey, he won everything that could be won in club basketball. He was a member of the Yugoslav Champions' Team in 1988, 1989, 1990 and 1991, and the team that won the Triple Crown in 1990 and 1991. He was three times one of the Gripe team's pivotal players when the team won the title of European Champions - in 1989, 1990 and 1991.
At the national team level, he achieved an even greater harvest of medals than at the club’s. He was a representative of Yugoslavia from 1987 to 1991, and a representative of Croatia from 1992 to 1999. As member of the Yugoslav National Team, he was a member of the team that became the FIBA’s U16 European Champions in 1985, FIBA’s U18 European Champions in 1986 and FIBA’s U19 Basketball World Cup Champions in 1987.
In senior competition, Toni Kukoč won a bronze medal at the 1987 European Championships in Athens, then a silver medal at the Seoul Olympics 1988, the European Championship title at the championships in Zagreb in 1989 and in Rome in 1991, and the World Champion title at the FIBA World Championships in Buenos Aires in 1990.
In the Croatian National Basketball Team, Toni Kukoč won a silver medal at the Barcelona Olympics 1992 and bronze medal at the FIBA World Cup in Toronto in 1994. He won the same medal at the FIBA European Championships in Athens in 1995. He also performed at the Atlanta Olympics 1996.
He has also won a large number of personal acknowledgements. He was the Best Basketball Player at the World Championships in Buenos Aires in 1990, the Best Athlete in Yugoslavia in 1990 and Croatia in 1989, 1990 and 1991. In 1990, 1991, 1994, 1996 and 1998, he was Euroscar European Player of the Year and Mister Europa European Player of the Year based on the poll by the Italian newspaper La Gazzetta dello Sport, and in 1996 he was the NBA’s Sixth Man of the Year. In total, he was named the Best Basketball Player in Europe five times.
In 1991 Toni Kukoč moved to Benetton, Italy, with whom he won the Italian League Championship and Italian Cup in 1992.
From 1993 to 2007 he played in the NBA, for the famous Chicago Bulls until 2000 and he was NBA champion three times in a row from 1996 to 1998, winning consecutively three rings with which only a few Croats can boast. He also played in the NBA for Philadelphia in the season 2000-01, Atlanta in 2001-02 and Milwaukee from 2002 to 2006, when he finished his career at the end of the year.
He had the honor of playing with the greatest basketball players in NBA history - he was a teammate of the great Jordan.
Of all the trophies, his favorite is the first European title with Jugoplastika in Munich in 1989, when there were more than 150,000 people at the reception in Split.
With his games in the yellow jersey, he permanently marked Split sport. For all time, while there is basketball and Split, the history will bear the record written in golden letters of unlikely titles of European champion in as many as three occasions from 1989 to 1991. In those great days of basketball from Gripe, Toni Kukoč was a pivotal player, a player from whom everything started and ended either in defense or offense, as well as team captain on his last campaign at the top of Europe in 1991.
In 1985, then Jugoplastika’s coach Krešimir Ćosić pointed to young talent Toni Kukoč, stating then: "I am leaving convinced of the bright future of your club. You have gold among the kids. You have a new, if not even stronger player than Dražen Petrović." Then Krešo took a group of people to the hall and pointed the finger at Tony Kukoč.
As member of the Croatian National Basketball Team, he won the Franjo Bučar National Sports Award in 1992, and was awarded the State Medal of the Order of Danica Hrvatska (Croatian Morningstar) with the image of Franjo Bučar. In 1997, the Croatian Olympic Committee presented him the award for the Most Successful Athlete-Promoter of Croatia in the world.
During his career, Toni Kukoč had a specific style of play, in which elegance, ingenuity and combinatorics prevailed. Since 2010, he is the Head Coach of the Croatian National Golf Team. (COC/JG)
The Croatian Olympic Committee (COC) congratulates Toni Kukoč on his election as a new member of the Basketball Hall of Fame!