Dino Radja hugs head coach Bozidar Maljkovic after Jugoplastika Split had won its second consecutive European Cup title in 1990.In most places, one can find that the European champs in 1991 were called Pop 84, but that was just the name of the sponsor under which the talented players of Jugoplastika were playing that season. Despite being without Dino Radja and Dusko Ivanovic, the team from Split was led by a great Toni Kukoc and a genius-like Zoran Savic to their third consecutive title. Since the times when ASK Riga of Russia won European titles between 1958 and 1960, no other team had won three in a row. And in the Final Four era, no team besides Jugoplastika has been able to win even two consecutively. In 1991, the competition provided some big surprises leading up to Paris. Kingston of England eliminated CSKA Moscow, and what's more, with a double victory, 93-77 at home and 72-74 in Moscow. Bayer Leverkusen of Germany made its debut in the third round, but the other faces were well-known to everyone: Barcelona ended first in that phase (11-3), Pop 84 was second (9-5), and the other two Final Four teams would be Scavolini and Maccabi, tied at 8-6. Once again, the first team of the previous round didn't get the title. In a rematch of the previous year's final - another occurrence that has not been repeated since - the team from Split won 70-65, almost identical to the 1990 score (72-67). Thanks to a great performance by Savic, who scored 27 points, Jugoplastika had an historic three-peat.

Toni KukocToni Kukoc is driving home, Milwaukee to Chicago. Yes, he says, he would love to talk about the great times, the best of his life, leaving aside the Chicago Bulls for a moment. He thinks back to the Final Four of 1990 in Zaragoza, Spain. Jugoplastika went as defending champs, the team that surprised the continent, and maybe themselves, a year earlier in Munich. Now, the traditional European powers looked for revenge. But this was Toni's team. Young though he was, Kukoc was the leader, the man who made everything possible. Even coming off the bench in the 1990 final against Barcelona, he was named MVP. He would repeat the next year as MVP and, despite losing with Benetton in 1993, win the award for a third time. Kukoc was good. That good. "We had a game plan, and nothing could take that away," Kukoc recalled. "Nothing and nobody. No matter who was on the other side, I just knew it was for us."

Zaragoza was not Munich. Now Jugoplastika was the titleholder and others wanted to take the trophy away.

"Munich was a suprise, a sensation. Young guys taking the final prize. The year after was a new year. We had something to prove. And we knew it was a good, great team. Zoran Savic came on board. Dino Radja was going to Boston, but it did not happen that year, and him not going was the best thing that happened to us. We needed Dino. Making the Final Four was a must. When you get there, anything can happen."

Limoges was first, in the semis, and Limoges was the easy part. Jugoplastika won 101-83: Velimir Perasovic scored 24, Dusko Ivanovic 20, Kukoc and Savic 16, Radja 10.

"Never in doubt, we knew that was the easy part. But we also knew that Barcelona would prevail over Aris. We knew Barcelona would be our biggest challenge. The only challenge."

In Spain, against Barcelona, Toni Kukoc was not scared.

"Great team, Barcelona had a great team, but somehow, I knew there was no way we could lose that game."

Logical question. Why?

"I have no idea, but I knew we could not lose that game. Because of Munich? I don't think so. I just thought that Jugoplastika cannot lose an important game to Barcelona. We had a game plan, and nothing could take that away. Nothing and nobody. No matter who was on the other side, I just knew it was for us. Barcelona? No way. Barcelona was never a threat in big games."

Jugoplastika won 72-67. Toni once again torched Barcelona, 24 points in the semifinals in Munich, now 20 in the final at Zaragoza. Radja, Perasovic and Ivanovic scored 12 each. Perasovic conected on a huge three-point shot when Barcelona got close in second half.

"It was our night, and we knew that was our night. We had a game plan, Barcelona could not stop us. Barcelona or any other team, it did not matter. We just knew it was our year. Why? I don't know why, just a feeling. We just felt our team was the best. And it was."

Toni Kukoc was the star on all three Split championship seasons. Three-time European champions. Which was the best?

"It's hard to say. The first one you always remember, the first one was the most impossible, but nothing is impossible if you believe. So, Munich is the one to remember. Zaragoza? That was great also, because we proved the point. We proved that the first one was not a fluke. But if I have to choose, Paris is the best for me. The final award. The third crown. Bozo Maljkovic had left to Barcelona, and we beat Barcelona once again, in the final. Dino Radja was not on the team, neither Dusko Ivanovic nor Goran Sobin. That was a great year, best year of my life. We won everything: European champions, we won the Yugoslav championship, cup also. But all three are special."