The former Benetton entered the NBA Hall of Fame
The voice cracked with emotion, the shining eyes in the audience of former teammates and of his newfound friend Vlade Divac, the complicit smile of Michael Jordan sitting on a stool next to him. Toni Kukoc, the Spider from Split, the only player of his kind and the first great champion, together with Vinny Del Negro, to be passed through Treviso, leaving an indelible mark, officially entered the Nba Hall of Fame. «I would like to congratulate all those who are about to enter the Hall of Fame and for having chosen me as part of the 2021 class – Toni began in his greeting – I owe a lot to my father, who passed on his love for sport to me. I started playing table tennis at 8, then I started with football, at 15 I chose basketball. Split, my hometown, has characterized my career as has Chicago. In Illinois I found the Bulls but in Split there was Jugoplastika where I grew up thanks also to great coaches like Božidar Maljkovic and Željko Pavlicevic and to teammates who pushed me to always improve. One of these is Dino Radja ».
The long entrance speech did not forget the painful split between the former united Yugoslavia, of which Kukoc was the standard-bearer of the youth teams, and independent Croatia: “I played for both, reaping satisfactions and having the good fortune to share the experience with extraordinary guys like Divac and Drazen Petrovic ». The great debut of Croatia, at the 1992 Olympics, coincided with the first real taste of NBA: “I have to thank Jordan because together with Scottie Pippen he kicked my ass in the Olympic final – said Toni while at his side MJ smiled so sly – They spurred me to work harder to become worthy to wear the Bulls tank top ».
There was also room for other key figures, many of them linked to the Treviso two-year period in which Kukoc signed the Scudetto and the Italian Cup, missing the Champions Cup by a whisker against his teacher Maljkovic: “I want to remember Jerry Krause, who insisted ( he was in Treviso, ed) to fly to Chicago. And my historical agent, Luciano Capicchioni, together with his staff. And all the teams I was part of, including Benetton, with whom I spent some fantastic moments ». Words that would have pleased another basketball giant, the patron Gilberto: he would have applauded the champion he wanted as the jewel of his most beloved team. –