Credit: Basketball HOF
Credit Basketball HOF

A September Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame inductee, Toni Kukoc, agreed to have the exclusive interview with Sasha Chobanov of Index.hr.

Toni Kukoc

Toni  Kukoc
Position: SF
Age: 53
Height: 211 cm
Weight: 107 kg
Birth place: Split, Croatia

They talked about the Hall of Fame entering, coaching career, Michael Jordan, Croatian basketball, and many other topics.

Toni Kukoc started the conversation, saying it meant a lot to be a part of the Hall of Fame.

“It means to me that I am recognized in my sport. There is no greater recognition in basketball than entering the Hall of Fame. I said that if I enter the HoF - great, but if that doesn’t happen, I will live without it.

When that happened, I felt overjoyed. I found myself in a place where all generations of basketball were at the time, 75 years of the NBA. From Bill Russell, Oscar Robertson… It was a pleasure talking to these people, I enjoyed listening to them,” said Kukoc.

“Dino Radja and I were standing and talking about something, and suddenly Isiah Thomas came to us all smiling and started telling us that we were his favorite players. He also asked to take a picture with us. I have to admit, I was a little shocked because, before Jordan, he was the best player in the world, and, before the Bulls, Detroit was the best team,” added the basketball legend.

According to the 53-year-old, Jordan and he agreed on a presentation process a long time ago. That was when Jordan was inducted into the Hall of Fame. Per Kukoc, both athletes were playing golf, and Toni asked Michael whether he would like to be the presenter if Kukoc ever enter the HOF.

Then Jordan interrupted Kukoc and promised that he would be the one to take Toni into the House. Many years have passed. When Kukoc found out that this would happen, he sent Jordan a message asking if that promise was worth it. MJ replied with a short message: “If I promised you, then you know there is no problem.”

Asked about the nowadays NBA basketball and 1990s, Kukoc emphasized the more physical game of his era.

“In my time, some things were played more than they are today. By that, I mean mostly the defense. Physical basketball was allowed, you could hold your opponent with your hands. Detroit, Boston, New York, Indiana, all teams from the East played similarly then.

At that time, it was considered that teams from the East played better defense and from the West a better attack. Matches used to be much more physical, but not faster. Today, the NBA is working to protect the best players.

We no longer see heavy fouls like they used to be on Thomas, Bird, or Jordan. This is normal. I really liked one sentence by Kobe Bryant when asked why he plays with a broken finger. He said some people had been collecting money all year so they could watch him play, and therefore he was not allowed to be out of the court,” told the Hall of Famer.

Reacting to Sam Smith’s statement (“if you had come to any club except the Bulls at that time, you would have been what Luka Doncic is today”), Kukoc agreed that he would have been a much bigger player than he was. He also added that the NBA’s attitude towards Europeans is much different.

“If Michael and Scottie hadn’t played in my position, I believe, I would have been a much bigger star. When I came to the club before Jordan came back, there were games when I scored up to 30 points each,” spoke the Croatian.

“Lately, the NBA’s attitude toward Europe has changed. Europeans play, some of them dominate, and we also have MVP players from Europe. The last is Jokic. Not that my generation was weaker than this one today, but the conditions were different.

It’s hard to call it the wrong era, but someone had to go first and break the ice. We were the first to say: ‘Let’s go, whatever.’ We will go there and prove to them that we know how to play too,” he supplemented.

Asked about his game-style comparisons, Toni Kukoc delivered a surprising answer.

“Jokic is great, but I was still a little faster than him, and I could have jumped more (laughs). Of course, I’m kidding. I see some similarities in a lot of players.

Jokic reads the game brilliantly, while Doncic is creating magic moments. Somehow it seems to me that the most similar to me is Giannis Antetokounmpo,” astonished Kukoc.

Regarding the coaching career, the legendary player was straightforward.

“My career has been led by really fantastic coaches, and I think I learned a lot from each of them. However, there are very few top players who later became good coaches. The real players are mostly perfectionists, and due to a large number of repetitions of some things in training, they could easily achieve everything that the coach asked of them in the matches.

But when you, as a coach, tell a player five times not to do that, and as soon as he steps on the floor, he does exactly what you told him not to do, it’s crazy. I think that would drive me crazy. And what to tell him after that?” told the 53-year-old.

Commenting on the Last Dance series, Toni Kukoc admitted that he had never had any discomfort with Michael Jordan. According to the Croatian, Michael was not a bully.

He used to tell Kukoc a million times that he would go after him as hard as he could, just to see how Kukoc would react. It was purely Michael’s check of his teammates, who will be able to help him when the playoffs come.

Via Toni Kukoc, Scottie Pippen, for example, was always gentle and kind to his teammates. The two of them were Yin and Yang.

Remembering Allen Iverson in Philadelphia, a recent Hall of Famer underlined his immense scoring abilities.

“Allen is one of the best players in the NBA if we consider height and strength. The ease, with which he scored and the fearlessness he attacked under the basket were fascinating. His only flaw was that he never fully trusted his teammates,” said Kukoc.

At the end of the interview, Toni Kukoc talked about Croatian and Serbian basketball. He shared his thoughts on what went wrong.

“Obviously, Serbs are no longer as elite as they used to be. Now they have failed to qualify for the Olympic Games. Tough question, we are a small country (Croatia), and we simply cannot find the right generation. A good team needs a good generation. Just a few good players are not enough. We have an NBA five, so we have quality players, but they can’t do much when they come a few days before the game, everyone from their system.

One athlete plays with the Jazz, another with the Clippers, a third with the Suns, and now they should show up without the right training and preparation to slap everyone in a row. It doesn’t work that way.

On the other hand, I think the problem is also that our people are used to the successes we have had. They thought it would be like that forever. Today everyone is playing. Look at what was happening in Tokyo. The Americans have won gold, but there are no more 40 points differences. Slovenians play, Australians, Brazilians, Argentines, French. I think there has never been a smaller difference in basketball than today,” finished Toni Kukoc.

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