"I would like to thank this gentleman here... for kicking my butt during the Olympics in Barcelona." Toni Kukoč stole the show at the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame with this line, referring to the first matchup between the Dream Team and Croatia in the '92 Olympics. The gentleman in question was Michael Jordan, who was there to keep a promise he had made in 2009 - to be the one to induct Toni into the Hall of Fame.
For those of you who forgot, the butt-kicking happened because Toni was Jerry Krause's new favorite player while Scottie was unsuccessfully asking for a new contract. MJ and Pip argued who's going to guard Toni before the game - the poor guy didn't know what was coming. But, Kukoč showed he deserved a chance during their rematch in the Finals, with 16 points, 5 rebounds, and 9 assists.
Toni joined the Bulls in 1993, and the rest is history. He actually became more friendly with Pippen in the beginning, saying Scottie "was especially helpful to me, a teammate that would never walk out on you. Out of all my teammates, he helped me the most." MJ wasn't there to make friends during his playing games but to test his teammates and make them championship-ready.
The friendship between Michael and Toni happened later in their careers, on the golf course. Both crazy about the game; they spent countless hours playing and talking about golf. Back in 2009, the two were talking about Jordan's upcoming Hall of Fame induction when he made a special promise to Toni.
"We were playing golf, and I was about to ask him if he'd be my presenter if I ever make it in. Michael interrupted me and finished my thought - he promise to be the one to induct me into the Hall. A lot of time has passed and when I found out I was getting in, I sent him a text to check if he's still up for it. He sent a short text back. "If I made a promise, then you know I'm good for it."
Toni Kukoč, Index.hr
But as fate would have it, it turned out MJ's daughter was getting married on the same day Toni was being inducted. Jordan called and apologized to Toni but said he had to be there and give his daughter away at the altar. Of course, Kukoč understood kids take precedence. Then, a COVID silver lining appeared.
"About 10 days after he called and told me the wedding was postponed due to COVID. MJ asked if my invitation was still good - which of course it was. He got on a plane, inducted me into the Hall, and left after the ceremony."
Toni Kukoč, Index.hr
MJ kept his word, and Toni got inducted into the Hall of Fame by the Greatest of All Time. A great finish to a great career.