Toni Kukoč (born September 18, 1968) is a Croatian retired professional basketball player who is currently Special Advisor to Jerry Reinsdorf, the Owner of the Chicago Bulls. 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).
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, Kukoč made his NBA debut on November 5, 1993.
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 season, 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 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 seven games.
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, fulfilling 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 the time at 72–10 (later surpassed by the 2015–16 Golden State Warriors), as well as the fourth championship in team history. Kukoč was the 4th and is currently the last player to win the NBA Sixth Man of the Year Award and the NBA title in the same year having joined Kevin McHale, Bill Walton, and Bobby Jones in accomplishing that feat.
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.
Career highlights and awards
3× NBA champion (1996–1998)
NBA Sixth Man of the Year (1996)
NBA All-Rookie Second Team (1994)
3× Euroleague champion (1989–1991)
2× EuroBasket champion (1989, 1991)
4× Yugoslav League champion (1988–1991)
2× Yugoslav Cup champion (1990, 1991)
Italian League champion (1992)
Italian Cup champion (1993)
3× Croatian Sportsman of the Year (1989–1991)
FIBA World Championship MVP (1990)
3× Euroleague Final Four MVP (1990, 1991, 1993)
4× Mister Europa Player of the Year (1990–1992, 1996)
5× Euroscar Player of the Year (1990, 1991, 1994, 1996, 1998)
EuroBasket MVP (1991)
FIBA’s 50 Greatest Players (1991)
50 Greatest Euroleague Contributors
Career NBA statistics
Points 9,810 (11.6 ppg)
Rebounds 3,555 (4.2 rpg)
Assists 3,119 (3.7 apg)
Summer Olympic Games
Silver medal – second place 1988 Seoul National team
Gold medal – first place 1990 Argentina National team
Bronze medal – third place 1987 Greece National team
Gold medal – first place 1989 Yugoslavia National team
Gold medal – first place 1991 Italy National team
Summer Olympic Games
Silver medal – second place 1992 Barcelona National team
Bronze medal – third place 1994 Canada National team
Bronze medal – third place 1995 Greece National team