AL HAMNIK: Toni Kukoc fame extends beyond 1.8 seconds

2013-02-28T20:00:00Z 2013-03-01T23:03:05Z AL HAMNIK: Toni Kukoc fame extends beyond 1.8 secondsAl Hamnik Times Columnist nwitimes.com
February 28, 2013 8:00 pm  • 

One event can define you for life, particularly in sports where the goat lives on forever.

But Toni Kukoc was no goat.

The 6-foot-11 Croatian enjoyed a lucrative career with the Bulls, winning three NBA titles alongside Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen and Dennis Rodman while providing an offensive punch off the bench.

He had as many nicknames as Rodman had tattoos -- "White Magic," "The Spider From Split," "The Pink Panther," "The Waiter" and "The Croatian Sensation" being the most popular.

Kukoc could play all five positions and was among only a handful of established European stars during his 13-year NBA career.

But it was the infamous 1.8 seconds that are fixed in the minds of Bulls fans who remember Game 3 of the Eastern Conference semifinals against the New York Knicks at Chicago Stadium.

During a sold-out Thursday night appearance at Bridges Scoreboard Restaurant & Sports Bar in Griffith, Kukoc braced for more questions about the 1.8.

Scottie Pippen, always known for his moodiness, refused to report back in after a timeout when he wasn't asked by coach Phil Jackson to take the final shot that spring night in '94.

So Pippen sat frozen at the end of the bench, arms folded defiantly, as Kukoc reported in -- and then hit the game-winning shot.

I was there covering the game and my ears were ringing for days from the crowd going bananas.

"You know what? For some strange reason, everybody mentions that thing," Kukoc said, smiling. "Probably if you had 100 people mention something about the Bulls, I'll say over 80 percent of the people would start with that thing.

"They actually tell me where they were sitting at the Stadium. They feel I'm supposed to recognize them. I tell them, sorry, I really don't and they go: 'You gotta remember me. I was sitting in the third row, right behind the bench.'"

Kukoc told me he doesn't live in the past or brag and boast about having played with Jordan, Pippen and Rodman.

But, oh, he still remembers the play Phil Jackson called -- four Bulls on the foul line, then taking off in different directions -- and nailing his two-pointer over the extended arm of beefy Anthony Mason.

And it was designed solely for No. 7.

Kukoc had helped open the door for European talent with his versatility, pinpoint passing and outside shooting, all seldom found in players of that height.

Drafted by much-maligned Bulls' general manager Jerry Krause in 1990, Kukoc stayed in Europe to refine his game before coming to Chicago in '93.

Toni retired in 2006, averaging 15.9 points and 5.1 assists for his career. Humble and personable back then, the towering lefty hasn't changed one bit.

He and wife Renata, son Marin and daughter Stela still live in the Highland Park home they purchased in 1993.

Kukoc made about $61 million in the NBA playing with the Bulls, 76ers, Hawks and Bucks and now spends his free time golfing and doing charity work.

The 1.8 seconds is merely a footnote to his career.

This column solely represents the writer's opinion. Reach him at al.hamnik@nwi.com

Copyright 2014 nwitimes.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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