Sunday, September 18, 2011

That Yugoslavia! Thing 2 - Toni Kukoc Edition

Former Michael Jordan teammate Toni Kukoc was born September 18, 1968, in Split, Yugoslavia, (now Croatia) in the Dalmatian region.

(Want to see gorgeous photos of Split? Click here.)

After playing for the Bulls, he also played for Philly and then Milwaukee. He currently resides in Highland Park, Illinois, with his wife Renata, their teenage son Marin and daughter Stela. Today's blog post is dedicated to Toni Kukoc in literature.

From one of my favorite books EVER, Pretty Birds by Scott Simon: "It wasn't until Irena had opened up the shirt that she saw JORDAN across the back, CHICAGO on the front. The gift, along with the gunshots and emptiness outside, alarmed her. Irena was cunning. She knew that Coach Dino enjoyed having sex with her, but she assumed that one day he would approach her with his sad hound's face and announce that he was returning to his wife (or, at least, to their bedroom from the couch on which he professed to sleep) or moving in with Julija Mitric, the hazel-eyed women's soccer coach. Irena enjoyed her moments with Coach Dino, but she spent more time dreaming about Toni Kukoc, the great Croatian player, or Johnny Depp than about the coach."

From Big Game, Small World: A Basketball Adventure by Alexander Wolff: "During his first season in the NBA, while the war raged back home, you could see the labor in everything Toni Kukoc did...after joining the Chicago Bulls in 1993, he seemed to repudiate the style that had turned him into the finest young player in Europe...Crack through the shell into which Kukoc retracted and you could find an essential homebody, a player who back in the mid-1980s was always the most reluctant to take part in those late-night high jinks [as part of the Yugoslavian national youth team]. His first coach in Chicago, Phil Jackson, would tease Kukoc about how he played better when a Bulls game was being broadcast back to Croatia and his mother might be watching."

From Sacred Hoops by Phil Jackson: "Toni wasn't a selfish player. Nothing gave him more pleasure than to dish the ball to someone else. But he didn't want to conform to the triangle offense. I knew right from the start that I would have to ride him hard in practice to protect him from being torn apart by his teammates. I'm sure my method didn't seem like an act of kindness to Toni. He couldn't understand why I allowed Scottie [Pippen] the freedom to make creative moves outside the system, but would start yelling at him when he tried similar gambits."

From Scottie Pippen by Fred McMane: " times, Pippen made life difficult for Kukoc. He sometimes yelled at him on court for failing to execute a play properly. As Kukoc became more comfortable with the NBA style of play, however, he became a valuable member of the team and Pippen softened in his criticism of the Croatian star.

'I think Toni is a very talented player,' Pippen said. 'He has a lot to learn about this game...When I push Toni, I try to make him better, like Michael did me. People look at it wrong and assume I dislike him. The problems I supposedly had weren't personal. I objected to the way they were pursuing him and offering him so much money...I honestly enjoy talking to Toni and trying to teach him how to be a better player...I see a lot of my game in Toni.'"

From Bad As I Wanna Be by Dennis Rodman and Tim Keown: "I think Toni Kukoc is the guy who was most affected by the trade [when Rodman came to Chicago]. He went from being the best player on the whole continent of Europe to being the fourth best player on this own team. I'm not saying he was overwhelmed when I showed up, but he has to understand that with this kind of team they've put together here, it doesn't matter who gets the glory. This team will free him up to do whatever he has to do; he just needs to understand that and get his mind right about the game. We'll cover up for Kukoc's mistakes. He's a great shooter, and he can shoot 15 times a game and score 16 or 17 points a game, easy. Kukoc can take over the Vinnie Johnson, instant-offense role on this team."

My contribution! From "Pairs of Really Big Ones" by Erin O'Riordan: "But I soon found that, with Reggie and Rik, I'd established a pattern. My chocolate fantasies needed a scoop of vanilla. For that, there was Toni Kukoc, the Bulls' six-foot-eleven power forward. Not quite as pretty as Dennis, a bit skinny and slope-shouldered, he had other nice features. In contrast to Dennis's many colorful markings, Toni had a single tattoo, a shark. He pulled off a goatee that would have looked ridiculous on any American white boy. And he was even more exotic than Rik [Smits, who is Dutch], coming from Croatia. He spoke to the press rarely, but when he did, his deeply accented English (think Gary Oldman in Dracula) never failed to melt my butter. Most of my Dennis and Toni fantasies began with Dennis and me putting eyeliner on Toni, and ended with sexy words I didn't understand hollered out in Serbo-Croat."

When you remember Toni, you must remember this song, ubiquitous in the summer of 1998 when the Bulls were winning their 6th championship of the 1990s. I'd like to think that if I ever danced with Toni, this would happen. You've seen the size of the dude's feet.

Image: the "cover" of a RPF (real person fiction) I wrote in 2005, featuring Toni, Madonna and Dennis Rodman

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