Finally! Toni Kukoč to be Inducted into Basketball Hall of Fame!

Daniela Rogulj

Updated on:

Davor Javorovic / PIXSELL
Davor Javorovic / PIXSELL reports that it was simply a matter of time, although it is not clear to anyone today why it all took so long. Toni Kukoč, a virtuoso from Split and the most trophy-winning Croatian basketball player of all time, will be part of the 2021 Hall of Fame class, which will be officially inducted in September in Springfield. 

Kukoč will enter the elite class in his eighth attempt, after the Chicago Bulls nominated him in 2014, and thus become the fifth Croat in the company of basketball immortals.

Before him, Krešimir Ćosić was admitted in 1996, Dražen Petrović in 2002, Mirko Novosel in 2007 and Dino Rađa in 2018.

Although he was a three-time NBA champion and winner of the award for the best sixth player in the strongest league globally, Kukoč could not have a place in the Hall of Fame based on his NBA career. That is why he was nominated as a candidate from international basketball, and a special International Committee decides on its representative every year. It consists of seven members, and a nominee must receive six affirmative votes to be inducted into the Hall of Fame.

With the inclusion of Kukoč, Croatia became the country with the most representatives in the Hall of Fame after the USA. So far, it has been tied at the top with Serbia, which has four – Divac, Bora Stankovic, Aleksandar Nikolic, and Drazen Dalipagic.

Kukoč deserved his place in the Hall of Fame not only with fantastic games and numerous trophies, but also as one of the six European pioneers – along with Dražen, Divac, Rađa, and Lithuanians Sabonis and Marčiulionis – who led the way for hundreds of non-American basketball players to the strongest league in the world. His style of play made him a forerunner of newer stars like Dirk Nowitzki, Kevin Durant, or Nikola Jokić – tall players who know everything about the ball and go far beyond the former expectations of such basketball players.

But his trophies are a story unto themselves. Kukoč is the only basketball player in history who has not only won the European Champions Cup / Euroleague and the NBA ring three times but did so for three years in a row. During all three European titles with Jugoplastika, he was named the best player of the Final Four, winning two of the most prestigious European individual awards (Euroscar and Mister Europa) nine times. He also won four championships and two Yugoslav cups, as well as the Italian league and cup. He won the Olympic silver in Barcelona in 1992 and two European and one world bronze with the Croatia national team. With Yugoslavia, he was also an Olympic silver from 1988, a world gold, two European gold, and one bronze and three gold with junior selections.

He spent 13 years in the NBA, but he spent the best ones on arguably the best NBA team of all time in which he modestly accepted a supporting role, although he would be a major star in most other teams. That’s why he didn’t have spectacular statistics, and that’s why Americans will never appreciate him as much as they should.

This recognition will remind them of what we in Europe have known for decades – what a player Toni Kukoč was.

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