Bulls chairman Jerry Reinsdorf called Sunday to deliver the news to Toni Kukoc.
Kukoc was in Croatia, where his basketball journey began.
Once the news spread that he would be a member of the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame’s Class of 2021, the text messages, phone calls and Zoom calls started storming in.
A few days later, the three-time NBA champion took a deep breath and said, “It’s good to be me these days.’’
In his first official news conference since hearing the news, Kukoc was reflective, complimentary and humbled at the same time when discussing the path he took to get to Chicago and how he made sure he was good enough to stay there.
“Well, it wasn’t easy,’’ Kukoc said of the jump to the NBA. “You all know that at that time, not much was known about European players. And we were coming in there, I don’t want to say as total enigmas, but there were just the few games we played against the Dream Team. Some folks saw us playing the Olympics or World Championships, and that’s about it.
“I’m really, really happy that [former Bulls general manager] Jerry [Krause] stuck with that idea to bring me to the Bulls. Obviously, he had a [championship] team there, but his idea of how I [could] fit in that team was something that he talked me into. Then giving it a shot was the turning point for me. I decided to come over, and everything else was pretty much recorded.’’
Kukoc was selected 29th overall by the Bulls in the 1990 NBA Draft but didn’t join the team until the 1993-94 season.
One interesting point he made was that it was a key season to make the jump because the Bulls were a worldwide brand and Michael Jordan was chasing his baseball dream, which meant less pressure.
“The difficult thing for me was adjusting to the new team,’’ Kukoc said. “As well as I played in Europe, it was something totally different. I had to get used to a new system, new teammates, a new coaching staff. Maybe in a way, Michael not being there helped me a little bit because I got a lot of minutes that first year right away and could play my natural role more than I would later in my Bulls years.’’
Whatever it was, it worked. He was named to the All-Rookie second team.
His time with the Bulls included those NBA titles in 1996, 1997 and 1998 and a Sixth Man of the Year Award in 1995-96.
“Obviously, I’m happy that I’m here in Croatia, the place that I started playing this game of basketball,’’ Kukoc said. “Actually, that night [I found out], I went to my old club’s game, and I was watching them play, and all the memories of the place we played in and practiced in kind of came over me. There were some pictures of me from my younger days playing there, so in a way, it’s overwhelming.’’
Kukoc once again joins fellow Hall of Famers Jordan and Scottie Pippen, former teammates enshrined forever in the same building.