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.