Toni Kukoč is one of the best European players to have played in the NBA. His journey to the NBA was long and complicated. Toni was drafted by the Bulls in the second round of the 1990 NBA Draft but got to the Bulls in 1993. The team was interested in him and wanted to select him in the first round, but Toni wouldn’t commit he would come right away, so he dropped to the second round.
Then in 1993, Kukoč decided it was time to go across the ocean and play against the best. Not a lot of players went to the NBA from Europe at the time, and the few that did had a hard time getting regular minutes. Toni knew he had a lot to prove, mainly because he was joining the best team on the planet, the Chicago Bulls.
“Between ’88 and ’93, I won everything I could, with my team and with Croatia’s national team. I felt the need for a challenge and said to myself, ‘Let’s try it in the NBA.‘ I knew I was coming to a team that just did the three-peat and had a chance to win more titles.”Toni Kukoč, Večernji List
Toni was preparing to come off the bench, play limited minutes, and have an uphill battle to prove himself. But on the day he arrived in Chicago, a piece of news broke that rocked the basketball world. Michael Jordan announced he was retiring. This is how MJ explained his decision to his teammates.
“He [Jordan] said he’d had enough, that he wasn’t practicing with the same fire as he did before. Then his father got murdered, and that was the straw that broke the camel’s back. I was sitting there with players I had just met, and they were all crying. Suddenly, I was crying as well.”Toni Kukoč, Večernji List
Kukoč said it was horrible news, but also a blessing in disguise for him. Jordan leaving enabled him to play most minutes at his natural position, the small forward. Toni got a much bigger chance and didn’t let it go to waste. He quickly proved himself and was ready to become one of the best sixth men in the NBA.