Toni Kukoc officially enshrined as a Naismith Basketball Hall of Famer

Kukoc thanked Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen, and Bulls fans, among others, during his speech.
by Sam Smith
Remind Me Later

Body

When Toni Kukoc Saturday night went to the stage in Springfield, Mass. to begin his acceptance speech for enshrinement in the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame, Kukoc got a warm hug from his long ago teammate and frequent golfing buddy Michael Jordan. Jordan, who rarely makes the journey for Hall of Fame weekend, wanted to be there for Kukoc and has been telling friends Kukoc deserved to be in the Hall of Fame years ago.

Yet, we hardly knew having watched Jordan's tough love for so long with his Croatian teammate how bonded they were because of the love and influence for their fathers.

Kukoc Saturday began his remarks with a story about his father, Antae, and their shared love for the games that motivated Toni's love of sports and his memorable basketball career.

"Just to tell you a story about my father and how crazy he was about our soccer home team," Kukoc related. "My school was really close to my home. Once I was in the classroom taking an exam. My father climbed on the rooftop of our building. Once our team scored, he would yell, ‘Toni, we are 1-0.' After they scored again, he yelled again. My teacher, of course, realized what was going on and to stop disrupting the whole class she just sent me out. Thank god I passed the test, too. This is my dad."

It was in the 1993 playoffs when Kukoc was preparing to join the Bulls for the 1993-94 season. He visited the Berto Center one afternoon to meet with Krause.

"I went to the Berto Center before a New York game," Kukoc recalled. "I saw Michael and his dad just shooting, 2:30 in the afternoon on a game day. Shooting the ball and his dad passing him the ball over and over. Small talk, but it was heartfelt and that moment I saw how close Michael was to his dad and it reminded me of myself and my dad and how much he did for me."

Jordan's father, James, was murdered that summer leading to Jordan's initial retirement from basketball. Jordan would return late in Kukoc's second season. And whatever strife engulfed the team, they always shared that bond with their relationships to their fathers. So Michael in a rare appearance wanted to be there to share the moment with Kukoc.

Scottie Pippen delivered a video tribute, calling Kukoc one of the greatest international players ever and crediting Kukoc's sacrifice to come off the bench as a crucial element of the Bulls' ability to win three titles between 1996 and 1998.

Toni Kukoc speaks during his Hall of Fame induction ceremony as his presenters Michael Jordan and Jerry Reinsdorf looks on.

Toni Kukoc speaks during his Hall of Fame induction ceremony as his presenters Michael Jordan and Jerry Reinsdorf looks on.

Kukoc said he wanted to "thank this gentleman here, Michael Jordan, and Scottie Pippen for kicking my butt during the Olympics in Barcelona. And that way motivating me to work even harder to become an important part of the Chicago Bulls."

Kukoc typically thanked friends, family, former teammates and coaches. But fitting for his nature and his play, he was efficient, delivering one of the shortest speeches of the long evening, a crowd pleaser in an almost four-hour night with a record 16 honorees.

Kukoc thanked Bulls governor Jerry Reinsdorf and former GM Jerry Krause "for insisting on bringing me to the Bulls and believing in me as a player when it was uncommon for non-American players to play in the NBA."

Kukoc expressed gratitude for being welcomed by Chicago and its basketball fans and revealed his secret.

"I always cared about team success over individual goals," said Kukoc. "Now that I am here, I can say I was right."

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The contents of this page have not been reviewed or endorsed by the Chicago Bulls. All opinions expressed by Sam Smith are solely his own and do not reflect the opinions of the Chicago Bulls or its Basketball Operations staff, parent company, partners, or sponsors. His sources are not known to the Bulls and he has no special access to information beyond the access and privileges that go along with being an NBA accredited member of the media.

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