Bulls great Toni Kukoc entering the Hall of Fame with the 2021 class
Kukoc proved to be a dominant force both overseas and when he finally joined the Bulls in the NBA, and on Sunday it was announced that he would be put into the Hall in a ‘21 Class that also included Paul Pierce, Chris Webber and Chris Bosh.
The Bulls’ wing in the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame just got a bit more crowded, as it was announced Sunday that Toni Kukoc will be inducted into the Class of 2021 by the Hall of Fame’s International Committee.
“When Toni joined the Bulls in 1993, he had already established himself as one of the best players ever to come out of Europe,’’ Bulls Chairman Jerry Reinsdorf said in a statement. “While we knew what kind of player he was, we were not sure how he would adapt to the NBA. He quickly proved that his game was suited to play with the best players in the world. He was a star player on his championship teams in Europe, and one of the best sixth men in the NBA on our second three-peat championship teams in Chicago. There are not many players in the history of the game who have excelled at the level that Toni has.’’
Kukoc, a native of Croatia, was selected 29th overall by the Bulls in the 1990 draft and was instantly on the radar of then-general manager Jerry Krause as an impact player.
That also famously put him on the radar of Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen, who had very little love for Krause and wanted to send a message to their GM about his pet project.
The message was delivered in the first meeting between the 1992 Dream Team and Kukoc’s Croatian squad, as Jordan and Pippen took turns trying to humiliate the European star.
And while Krause knew he would have to wait for Kukoc a few more seasons after the showdown in the Olympics, the versatile forward lived up to Krause’s expectations when he was done overseas, making the jump to Chicago and the NBA for the start of the 1993-94 season.
It proved to be worth the wait as he was named to the all-rookie second team that year, and he played seven of his 13 NBA seasons in a Bulls uniform (1993-2000). That time with the Bulls included being on three championship teams (1996, 1997 and 1998), as well as being named sixth man of the year in 1995-96.
Others joining Kukoc in the Class of 2021 include Ben Wallace, Paul Pierce, Chris Webber, Jay Wright and Yolanda Griffith.
What Kukoc brings to the class, however, is an international pro career that began when he was 17 and was as storybook as they come. Kukoc not only had success with the Bulls, but he also was a three-time Euroleague Champion with the club Jugoplastika.
After being drafted by the Bulls, he initially stayed in Europe, playing for Benetton Treviso. Over those seasons in Italy, he won a league championship in 1992 and an Italian Cup title in 1993, playing a total of 68 games and averaging 19.8 points, six rebounds and 5.2 assists.
His trophy case also includes being a four-time National Champion of Yugoslavia (1988-1991), two-time Yugoslav Cup winner (1990, 1991) and two-time Triple Crown winner (1990, 1991).
Bulls coach Billy Donovan isn’t the type to be back in the office Monday morning, watching every game the Bulls played this season from start to finish.
Then again, there’s only one Tom Thibodeau.
But that doesn’t mean Donovan won’t be diving into the film at some point.
“How much film I’ll watch? It will really probably be more gathering thoughts,’’ Donovan said. “And I keep notes through the course of the year, try and make points even besides the X’s and O’s pieces.’’