Tall Blacks legend Mika Vukona calls time on career

Source: 1News

Mika Vukona, one of New Zealand's greatest basketball players, has called time on his 16-year international career for the Tall Blacks.

Five-time NBL champion and two-time Commonwealth Games medallist Mika Vukona announced his retirement last night following the Tall Blacks' loss to the Australian Boomers in Cairns.

It comes after a Test where the talismanic captain totalled 152 of the 154 test caps on display across the rosters of both teams.

“I’ve enjoyed my career – loved it. For me this game is something that was a unique situation and I always love playing situations like this, but that’s it," Vukona said.

"I’ve been blessed to be able to play this long and see some new talent, but it’s time to let the new crew come through."

Steven Adams recently said on The JJ Redick Podcast that Vukona had been his idol growing up when he first began following basketball.

"I thought he was amazing," Adams said.

"He just played with his heart and all out hustle. I really enjoyed watching him."

"I would say he was my biggest inspiration."

The announcement came after the Tall Blacks fell to the Australian Boomers last night in Cairns, going down 52-81 at the FIBA 2021 Asia Cup Qualifier event.

The game was always tough to forecast with so many fresh faces taking the court, with Pero Cameron restricted to players in Australia. 

The Boomers came out firing, with a barrage of three pointers in the first quarter, before the steadying hands of Taine Murray and Houston O’Riley brought the Tall Blacks back within 10 by half-time.

A nice run from the Tall Blacks in the third quarter saw the deficit cut to five thanks to the sting of a Jono Janssen three.

But the youthful Australian side, fit and well-oiled, were just too consistent for the ex-pat Tall Blacks in the fourth.

The Tall Blacks now drop to second on the table with three games to go – two against Hong Kong and one against Guam. The top two automatically qualify for the Asia Cup in August, to be held in Indonesia.

Ultimately the evening really came back to Vukona hanging up the black singlet.

Pero Cameron said Vukona was juggling a lot of things, but his unwavering devotion to New Zealand was at the forefront.

“[Tall Blacks] put everything on hold for the singlet. And when it comes towards the end of their career, the excitement of moving into the next stage of their life, that career transition is exciting," Cameron said.

After the message was sent immediately after the press conference via the @TallBlacks twitter account, Tall Black Isaac Fotu tweeted from Italy, where he plays for Reyer Venezia of the Liga Basket Serie A.

“Mika was the first person I looked up to on the basketball court and still do. I remember being in awe as a teenager working at the Breakers games and watching Mika play. Congratulations on a great international career.”

Basketball New Zealand Chief Executive Iain Potter also acknowledged Vukona’s service after the game.

“For 16 years, Mika Vukona has been an exemplary example of what it means to be a Tall Black. Countless New Zealand basketballers will have looked up to and learnt from Mika.

"While the Tall Blacks will miss him on the court, his legacy will live on as one of the greatest to have ever worn the black.”

Vukona bows out as the fourth all-time most-capped Tall Blacks player behind Cameron, Kirk Penney and Phill Jones.