Friday, January 13, 2012
Game 11: Wells Fargo Center
Sixers 120, Wizards 89
PHILADELPHIA — There is nothing as intoxicating as promise. Better yet, there was nothing as great as the unknown. Nearly 20 years ago basketball fans were drunk off the idea of a Eastern European basketball player plying his trade in the NBA with the best players in the game. In fact, the thought of this great unknown playing on the same team as Michael Jordan was like the formation of some sort of super team.
But for every Robert Altman ensemble piece, there is an Ishtar lurking stage right. To that regard, Toni Kukoc wasn’t exactly an NBA flop, but he wasn’t the Jordan of Europe, either. No, Kukoc was a decent NBA player… nothing more or nothing less.
In 13 NBA seasons, Kukoc averaged 11.6 points per game. At 6-foot-10 he became the stereotype for the Euro-styled basketball player. He was tall, but rarely went down to the low post. Instead, he worked out on the perimeter where he could be a playmaker—he was the quintessential point forward.
After earning three rings as the second scorer on those epic Bulls teams, Kukoc landed in Philadelphia in a three-way trade involving the Sixers, Bulls and Warriors and names like John Starks, Bruce Bowen, Larry Hughes and Billy Owens. It was a pretty exciting time for Sixers’ fans because coach Larry Brown was turning things around and Kukoc seemed to be ready to encore his act as the other scoring option with Allen Iverson.
The thing is, however, Iverson always preferred to work alone.
Kukoc lasted just 90 games with the Sixers (including the playoffs) and was dealt away to Atlanta for Dikembe Mutombo. In other words, Kukoc was integral in helping the Sixers win the Eastern Conference in 2001.
More than that, Kukoc could be the last of the great unknowns. Because of the proliferation of the media, players like Kukoc, Arvydas Sabonis, Oscar Schmidt, Sarunas Marciulionis, etc. are no longer unknowns.