The HOF ceremony is scheduled for today, and one of the names finally getting accepted is Toni Kukoc. Kukoc played an instrumental part during the second peat for the Chicago Bulls, and before he came to the NBA, he was regarded as one of the best European players ever. When he was still playing in Europe, Kukoc won every individual and team accomplishment you can think of, and when he came to the NBA, he continued to have the same level of success, proving European players can actively dominate in the NBA as well.
Kukoc was one of those international players who paved the way for other foreign players that would eventually come to the NBA. His impact was evident soon after getting accustomed to how the game was played in the NBA during those years. In an interview heading into the HOF ceremony, Sam Smith, a well-known book author and an expert on the Chicago Bulls, talked about Kukoc and how the Bulls were lucky to get him in the first place.
Even though he was a star player in Europe, Kukoc accepted his role within the Bulls and put his ego to the side for the team’s greater good. Smith makes an interesting point saying the best players in the NBA right now are European, and all of that wouldn’t be possible if it weren’t for players like Kukoc, who proved themselves and broke the stereotype for European players being soft and unprepared for the NBA. Smith even went that far that he compared Kukoc to Doncic in a sense he would be as equally dominant if he played for any other team in the league that is not the Bulls.
When the Bulls went and drafted Toni Kukoc with a second-round pick it should have been viewed as this incredible coup. You know, here was this one of the great players in the history of certainly European basketball. You look at the NBA now; who’s the champion? Guy from Greece. Who’s the MVP? Guy from Eastern Europe. Who’s the best player to watch? Luka Doncic, another European player. Basically, the NBA is dominated by now, for the most part, by European players. If Toni had gone to almost any other team other than the Bulls, he would have been of the great players. He would be what Luka Doncic is now. He would have been essentially and virtually an NBA candidate.Sam Smith, via Chicago Bulls
There is no doubt Kukoc would have better individual stats if he played for any other team in the NBA back then, and his versatility would be an asset to all of them like it was for the Bulls during their championship runs. Kukoc was ahead of his time, standing at 6’10” but had the guard skillset to compliment his height. He was a willing passer and a great floor general when asked to play that role. If he actually played for another NBA team, there is no question he could have averaged more than 20 points, 10 rebounds, and 7 or 8 assists per game. His versatility was his biggest strength, and players like Kukoc would have a field day playing in today’s NBA where his shooting and passing ability would come to full effect.
Luckily, after so many years, Kukoc is getting his respect due, and rightfully so. He will be presented by none other than Michael Jordan and Jerry Reinsdorf, which is a testament to his greatness and how much he meant for that team that is still considered the greatest NBA team in the history of the game.