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    Catching up with former Chicago Bulls forward Toni Kukoc

    Apr 30, 2017
    Former Chicago Bulls star Toni Kukoc with SPIN.ph columnist Homer Sayson.
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    CHICAGO - With a replaced hip, he now walks with a slightly discernible limp. He is still six feet and 11 inches tall and weighs a little more than the 192 pounds he carried at the prime his illustrious 13-year NBA career.

    His face remains boyishly good looking, but it's now etched by character lines that time imposes upon all mortals. The hair, the crowning glory that once was jet-black, is graying, giving him a charming, well-groomed salt-and-peppery look.

    Moments before the Boston Celtics terminated the Chicago Bulls from the 2017 NBA playoffs two days ago, I chanced upon Toni Kukoc at the United Center. It was a fleeting meeting but pleasantly unforgettable for a fan like me who worshipped him during those memorable Jordan years.

    "Do you still play basketball?" I asked

    "No, not anymore," he replied.

    "Just golf?" I fired back.

    "Yes. Lots of golf," he said before hurrying towards the basement elevators that would give him a lift to the suite where he would watch Game 6.


    So what is Toni Kukoc up to these days?

    Well, he is currently a special advisor to Bulls president and COO Michael Reinsdorf, a position he assumed last August 2015. When he isn't busy performing "wide-ranging" duties as an upstanding representative of a well-respected franchise, Toni spends a lot of his time in the links.

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    Since learning to play the sport by happenstance at a team event in Orlando during an off day in the mid 90s, Toni has pursued golf as an obsession, not a mere hobby. And while it presents a unique set of challenges to a man of his length, he has swung his way as among the best in the fairways.

    In 2011, he won Croatia's National Amateur Championship. A scratch golfer, he is aiming to qualify for pro tournaments in the U.S. His handicap is two, but a bigger handicap is being a lefty because in golf's long and filthy rich history, only nine southpaws have ever won a major title.


    But why golf?

    "It's nice and quiet. There are no players, no coaches, no referees. You totally depend on yourself and control your nerves, your muscles, you head," Kukoc told writer Peter Walsh during a February 2015 feature for the website Narratively.

    LIVIN' THE LIFE. Once called "The Waiter" for his uncanny ability to serve assists that lead to easy buckets, Toni is now 48 and enjoying the beckoning twilight of his years. He still owns a house in affluent Highland Park, a suburb of Chicago. Him and his wife Renata have two kids - Marin and Stela - who are grown and successful in their own right.

    When his mug was shown among other former Bulls players in attendance for Game 6, it got the loudest ovation. Though he averaged a spectacular 11.6 points, 4.2 rebounds and 3.7 assists during his NBA stint, the three-time champion was never voted an All-Star. He has underappreciated, like a Range Rover in a garage full of Ferraris.


    But to Bulls fans in Chicago and beyond, Kukoc will always be remembered as the 1996 Sixth Man of the Year, an unselfish, indispensable member of the Bulls 3-peat from 1996 to 1998.

    Kukoc believes that the 1995-96 team, which won 72 games that season, was the greatest squad during the Bulls' dynastic reign,

    "I really thought our best lineup was (Ron) Harper, Michael (Jordan), Scottie (Pippen), Dennis (Rodman) and me. Three inches difference between height and each one of us could have played any position; we would switch everything.

    "Offensively, it didn't matter who went to post up, Michael or Scottie or me, just depended on which was first one down; everybody else picks up other positions in the triangle. Once we figured out the triangle offense it was really good with three, four individuals that can solve problems on their own," Kukoc told Bulls.com writer Sam Smith, the author of The Jordan Rules, during a March 2015 interview.


    One of the few wrinkles in his charmed life include "back issues," Toni told ESPN's Melissa Isaacson in 2011. The occasional visits with the chiropractor can be attributed to "sacrifice" his body has made "to make a team better."

    When he came here in May 1993, Toni Kukoc was just a starry-eyed 25-year-old kid eager to play basketball with the world's best athletes. Twenty four-years and $61.4 million in basketball earnings later, who knew he'd still be here in Chicago, a city he loves, a city bursting with people who love him back.

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    Former Chicago Bulls star Toni Kukoc with SPIN.ph columnist Homer Sayson.
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