HoopsHype.com Interviews

Toni Kukoc: "The playoffs are the greatest thing in basketball"
by Gery Woelfel / April 24, 2004

You're 35 years old and have been to the playoffs in eight of your 11 seasons in the NBA. Do you still get as excited about them as you did as a younger player?

Toni Kukoc: I do. The playoffs are the greatest thing in basketball. That's why you go through 82 games, so you can be in the playoffs. It would be great if it was the reverse, if you could play less games to get into the playoffs. But it's not that way. The playoffs are a time when you have to be absolutely focused and dedicated to play.

Do you prepare yourself any differently for playoff games than regular-season games?

TK: Yeah, because you have more time. There aren't any back-to-back games in the playoffs. You got a couple
of days in between so you can actually rest and think about what you did wrong or did right. And you can watch tape, so you should be 100 percent ready to play. Plus, you know the opponent better. The first game might surprise you, but after that you should know everything they are running and doing. They aren't going to come with anything spectacular after that.

The NBA regular season can be grueling and taxing on any player, but it has to be even more strenuous on a player your age. How is your health these days?

TK: I feel good. I feel very good.

You have played in more playoff games than anyone else on the Bucks. With the wealth of postseason knowledge that you possess, do you pass it on to any of your younger teammates?

TK: Only if they ask me things. I don't want to force anything on them, and I don't want them to think I'm the smartest guy ever because I played in the Finals a couple of times. But if I see something on the court that is similar to something I went through in the playoffs before and I can help them and it would work for us, I will speak up.

Have any of your teammates asked you anything specifically about the playoffs?

TK: Sometimes they do. Dez (Desmond Mason) always comes to me and he says, 'Old Man, I think you should
say something.' And they pretty much listen. I'll talk to Damon Jones about things. He's a very important part of the team. He initiates the offense, so from time to time he needs help, especially now when they (the Detroit Pistons) double a lot or press a lot.

You are perceived as a quiet leader, one who leads by example. Is that a fair observation?

TK: I don't know. You can ask the guys. I never intend to come out and make these beautiful speeches about
the world and all that stuff. (Bucks coach Terry Porter asked Kukoc to speak a team film session before
the playoffs). I'll talk as much as I think is necessary.

How important is experience in the playoffs?

TK: I think it helps. That's why teams that are hoping to make a long playoff run are always looking for a veteran, one who has experience, ones who aren't surprised by what happens on the court. It helps a team from a security standpoint to be more composed when the game gets to a crucial part.

Coaches have different ways of preparing their teams for the playoffs. When you played for the Chicago Bulls, how did Phil Jackson prepare those legendary teams?

TK: He was different. We would have a lot of talks, and, of course, spend some times in the court. But he had this funny way of making it fun and serious at the same time. He would throw movie scenes into the game tapes or add some music videos to it. It was actually very exciting and fun. In those days, it was more exciting to see those 45 minutes of tape and what he put in them than anything else.

What was funniest or most unique thing Jackson ever put into his films?

TK: He had plenty of good things. He had scenes from the Devil's Advocate, The Good, The Bad and The Ugly,
and the group he likes, that old rock-and-roll group (the Grateful Dead).

How does Bucks coach Terry Porter prepare you and the Bucks?

TK: We watch a lot of tape, which I think is good for a young team without too much experience. I think we should learn from examples. We should watch our good things and bad things, so we can repeat our good things and try not to do the things that didn't work.

What do you like to do personally to prepare for a playoff game?

TK: I like to spend as much time as I can outside. When it's nice outside, I try to get as much fresh air as I can and clear my mind. Sometimes I'll listen to music. But being outside is what I like to do.

What strikes you the most about the playoffs?

TK: The intensity of it. That's one thing that always strikes me. In Europe, I would experience that only in the Final Four games. When you get to that point, the adrenaline is up 24 hours. After every one of those Finals for seven, maybe 10 days, I would get maybe three, not more than four hours of sleep and still felt great. I had plenty of sleep. I was so pumped up.

What was your favorite moment in the playoffs?

TK: If I tell you I remember pretty much every game, from the first minute until the last minute, you'd say, 'No way.' But I do. I remember pretty much every game, every game: the Seattle series, two against Utah, the Indiana series, the Finals of the East, the Miami series, theNew York series. I remember all of them. There a lot of favorite moments.

Now that your career is nearing an end, do these playoff games mean even more to you?

TK: You never know how the next season will go. I'm a free agent. I don't know if I'll stay here, or if I'll go to another team and if that team will be in the playoffs, so I take these games pretty serious.

Would you prefer to remain with the Bucks?

TK: Yeah, if they want me. Why not?

Earlier this season, you said you thoroughly enjoyed playing in Milwaukee and found a comfort zone with the team, something you seldom experienced in your career. What makes being with the Bucks so appealing to you?

TK: I like everything. Everything. It's nice. I really like the team, the fans are great, the city is all about the Bucks. And I'm close to my home in Highland Park (Ill.), so I can see my family as much as I want to.

Gery Woelfel covers the Milwaukee Bucks and the NBA for The Racine (Wis.) Journal Times

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