Former Bulls star Toni Kukoc to be inducted into Basketball Hall of Fame

The Bulls great, who helped the team to its second three-peat, is part of a 16-member class to be inducted Saturday.

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Toni Kukoc was an All-Rookie second-teamer in 1994 and the Sixth Man of the Year in 1996.

Toni Kukoc was an All-Rookie second-teamer in 1994 and the Sixth Man of the Year in 1996.

AP

Former Bulls star Toni Kukoc will be inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame on Saturday. A native of Split, Croatia, he was voted in by the International Committee.

Kukoc joined the Michael Jordan-led Bulls midway through their run of six NBA titles in eight years. Although he was a three-time MVP of the European League Final Four, his new teammates were skeptical.

“When we came here, it was different times. People didn’t know about us,” he said. “We were pioneers. . . . It was a time when the NBA became a global game, not just an American game. And it became open to the entire world.”

Paul Pierce, a 10-time All-Star with the Celtics and the MVP of the 2008 NBA Finals, is in the class of 16 scheduled to be honored at the Springfield, Massachusetts, shrine Saturday night. Also giving the event a Celtics feel: Bill Russell, who already is in the Hall as a player, will be inducted as a coach, making him the fifth person to be honored for both roles.

Others to be inducted are Villanova coach Jay Wright, Pistons star Ben Wallace, two-time NBA champion Chris Bosh, longtime Trail Blazers and Kings coach Rick Adelman, three-time WNBA MVP Lauren Jackson, Wizards and Kings All-Star Chris Webber and two-time Olympic gold medalist Yolanda Griffith.

The Hall’s committees, which are focused on preserving all areas of the game, also have selected former WNBA commissioner Val Ackerman, longtime coach Cotton Fitzsimmons and scouting pioneer Howard Garfinkel to be inducted as contributors. Clarence “Fats” Jenkins was picked by the Early African American Pioneers Committee, Bob Dandridge by the Veterans Committee and Pearl Moore from the Women’s Veterans Committee.

Pierce, who was the 10th pick in 1998, has long held a grudge over slipping in the draft — behind such players as Michael Olowokandi (first), Raef LaFrentz (third) and Robert Traylor (sixth). But he conceded Friday that it worked out for the best.

“I’m happy with my role. It made me who I am: a guy that’s going to scratch and claw. I earned everything I got,” he said during the pre-induction news conference at the Mohegan Sun Casino in Uncasville, Connecticut, on Friday.

Webber went from Michigan’s Fab Five freshman class to play 17 seasons in the NBA. He even noted the most ignominious moment of his career: The extra timeout he called in the 1993 NCAA championship game against North Carolina.

“Calling timeout, one of the worst moments you can have, 60 days later to be drafted, it was a whirlwind,” he said. “I really did enjoy the journey. The ups and downs and everything that came with it.”

Ackerman had worked for the NBA and USA Basketball when she was named the first president of the newly created WNBA in 1996. She guided the startup for its first decade, helping it survive where other women’s leagues have faltered.

Wallace broke down in tears while talking about his road from Virginia Union to a four-time defensive player of the year who won the 2004 NBA title with the Pistons. Going undrafted, he said, was a blessing.

“Either you’re going to find your true strength, or you’re going to prove to me why you want to be here,” he said. “There’s moments on your journey when you have to ... stay on your path. If there’s a roadblock in your path, you’ve got to find a way to overcome that roadblock.”

Adelman was told he didn’t have enough experience for the high school coaching jobs he was applying for but he landed a position at the Chemeketa Community College in Oregon. “Everything took off from that point on,” he said.

He signed on as an assistant to Hall of Famer Jack Ramsay’s with the Trail Blazers in 1983, took over the top job in ’89 and went on to win more than 1,000 games with Portland, Golden State, Sacramento, Houston and Minnesota.

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