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Toni Kukoč selected to Hall of Fame Class of 2021

/ by Rob Schaefer
Presented By Coors Light
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Toni Kukoč's wait is over.

The Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame announced the versatile former Bulls forward as an honoree in its Class of 2021 Sunday morning.

Not only was Kukoč an integral member of the Bulls' second three-peat team, winning Sixth Man of the Year in 1996, he enjoyed a decorated international career, winning three EuroLeague titles, a FIBA World Championship MVP and a World Cup gold medal among other individual and team honors.

The Bulls selected Kukoč 29th overall in the 1990 NBA Draft, but he joined the team for the 1993-94 campaign after playing three additional seasons abroad. He currently occupies an advisory role in the organization.

“When Toni joined the Bulls in 1993, he had already established himself as one of the best players ever to come out of Europe,” Bulls Chairman Jerry Reinsdorf said in a statement. “While we knew what kind of player he was, we were not sure how he would adapt to the NBA. He quickly proved that his game was suited to play with the best players in the world. He was a star player on his championship teams in Europe, and one of the best sixth men in the NBA on our second three-peat championship teams in Chicago. There are not many players in the history of the game who have excelled at the level that Toni has. Congratulations on this very well-deserved honor.”

Kukoč averaged 11.6 points, 4.2 rebounds and 3.7 assists across 13 NBA seasons — 14.1 points, 4.8 rebounds and 4.2 assists in seven with the Bulls. But baseline statistics always undersold his multi-pronged impact and status as one of the franchise's greats. His enshrinement among the game's most legendary should grant him his just due.

 

"I’m thrilled for Toni," Warriors coach and former Bulls teammate Steve Kerr said Sunday. "Just an incredible talent and he was the perfect fit on those championship teams to complement Michael (Jordan) and Scottie (Pippen). We had a really good group of veteran role players with that team. But we lacked the talent off the bench to really be explosive. We were a team that executed well. But what Toni gave us was that guy to play through when Michael and Scottie were off the floor.

"Just an incredibly gifted passer, playmaker and an underrated defender with his length and intelligence. Thrilled for Toni. He’s someone who really put his stamp on the league when he was playing, especially for the Bulls."

Bill Wennington agreed that Kukoč was the consummate teammate and an underrated contributor during the Bulls' glory years.

"As a teammate, he was great, lot of fun to be around. Off the court, going to eat, having some of his Croatian habits was fun to tease," Wennington said in a phone conversation with NBC Sports Chicago. "As a teammate on the floor, he was fantastic. He was basically 6-11 and could handle the ball, shoot. He was a great passer. For a big guy like me, he was phenomenal to play with. He’d just get you the ball. You just cut to the spot you’re supposed to be in and he knew how to get you the ball there.

"He was one of the first of his kind because he was a stretch four who could handle the ball and put it on the floor and finish at the rim or shoot the 3 on you. He was so versatile for a big guy... When he went to other teams, he started. He was that good. But for our team, he filled that bench role but was the guy who could create, get his own shot and facilitate for everyone else on the floor. Especially at that time, he was rare."

Pippen also tweeted out his excitement regarding Kukoč's selection, writing: "About time! I loved playing with TK and he was so important to our second three-peat teams. He absolutely belongs in the [Hall of Fame] and I look forward to him joining us this fall."

Jordan, Pippen, and Dennis Rodman as players; Phil Jackson and Tex Winter as coaches; and Jerry Krause (who scouted and drafted Kukoč) as an executive, now represent the dynasty Bulls in the Hall.

Joining Kukoč — an International Committee selection — in the Class of 2021 are players Paul Pierce, Chris Bosh, Chris Webber, Ben Wallace, Yolanda Griffith and Lauren Jackson, and coaches Rick Adelman, Jay Wright and Bill Russell.

The Class of 2021 will be enshrined in September.

 

NBC Sports Chicago's K.C. Johnson contributed to this report.

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