Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen endure as all-time great players for the Chicago Bulls. Toni Kukoc earned his own spot in Bulls' lore in 1994 when he hit a buzzer-beater to defeat the New York Knicks in a playoff game. That was near the end of the his rookie season, after which he went on to play in Chicago until the 1999-2000 season.
Kukoc officially retired from professional basketball in 2006, but he was back on the court last week hosting and coaching at a camp at the Bulls/Sox Academy in Lisle last week. He took time from working with camp participants to speak with Suburban Life sports editor Jason Rossi about the camp, his retirement, his native Croatia's involvement in the World Cup, and his famous last-second shot.
Rossi: What has kept you busy in retirement?
Kukoc: Not much. Play a little golf and watching basketball. That's pretty much it. Life is perfect. I became like a golf addict, so as long as the weather is nice I can go and golf.
Rossi: What are your thoughts on the camp?
Kukoc: It's a fun time for the kids. We're trying to work on fundamentals of the game and teaching them to play the right way and have fun while doing it.
Rossi: What's the biggest fundamental you try and get across to the kids?
Kukoc: There's a theme [to the camp] and it's listening. Just listening to the coaches and trying to put all that we say back onto the court. It's easy to forget after five minutes what the coach said and just do it the easy way or do it your own way, but we're trying to get them to listen to the little details we put in their ears and get them to put it back on the court.
Rossi: What was it like playing for the Bulls when they were at their peak?
Kukoc: I don't want to say it was easy; it was hard, but at the same time it was a lot of fun just for the fact that the expectations were high and the ultimate goal of winning a championship was the only goal. Everything else was a failure. It was a high standard, but it wasn't something where the goal was put so high that it wasn't reachable.
So we came to the first day of camp with the idea that if we played together and put our minds in the same place that our goal was achievable, and it was, three times.
Rossi: What do you miss most about playing?
Kukoc: The competitive nature of it that we all had. In golf, the U.S. Open, or the World Cup in soccer, you see how much the guys want it, how much they grind for it, how much the fans are into it and that's when that competitive spirit of mine shows up and boils inside of me again. Then reality hits you and when I try to overdo it, the body says, 'No, I don't really think so.' It brings you back to Earth, but that's the part you miss the most. The games you won by 20 or 30 you don't remember, but those last-second shots or the last-second defensive stops, those are the ones you remember and the ones people remind you about.
Rossi: Is that last-second shot against the Knicks your career highlight? Or is there something else you think back on?
Kukoc: I hit more than a couple [shots like that], but I'd say championships are more the measurement of your success as a basketball player. So all the championships, with all the stuff I did in Europe at first and then in the United States are kind of the highlights.
The individual stuff is always there, but it doesn't mean as much if nothing happens team-wise. The shots you hit are great, but championships are what measures somebody's success.
Rossi: Have you been watching much of the World Cup?
Kukoc: I've watched a lot of it. I watched Croatia, that's my team. I watched the United States because that's my team, too. Obviously I'm happy the States advanced and a little disappointed Croatia didn't.
Rossi: Do you ever get together with your former teammates and play some basketball?
Kukoc: No, but every once in a while we play golf and we enjoy the competitive nature that way.
Kukoc career highlights
• 3-time Euroleague champion with KK Split, 1989-91
• EuroBasket MVP, 1991
• Italian championship with Benetton Treviso, 1992
• 3-time NBA champion with Chicago Bulls, 1996-98
• NBA Sixth Man of the Year, 1996