Basketball: Tall Blacks legend Mika Vukona calls time on his illustrious international career

Veteran New Zealand basketballer Mika Vukona has called time on his illustrious international basketball career, after another typical selfless display of love and commitment to his country. 

One of New Zealand's greatest-ever players announced retirement from his 16-year career, after being called into the Tall Blacks squad for their clash against Australian Boomers on Saturday. 

Vukona took the unusual route of announcing his retirement in a post-match press conference, after his side's 81-52 loss at the FIBA 2021 Asia Cup Qualifier event. 

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

"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."

The evening was all about Vukona hanging up the black singlet and coach Pero Cameron says his skipper juggled a lot of things, but his unwavering devotion to New Zealand was at the forefront.

"The 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 says. "Mika is into it, and after a year and a bit, I call him back in. 

"It wouldn’t matter if he had one leg - it's his leadership that I want [the debutants] to get a taste of and what he brings to a game every day.

"The opportunity for [Mika] to step in, put the black on and lead these young kids... from the outside, if you know, it's terrifying. 

"When I asked the question, he just said 'yes' in two seconds."

Cameron is disappointed with the result, but proud to see his good friend and captain lead his new-look side into a difficult challenge. 

"It wasn't about anything else, but leading these 10 new guys," Cameron says. "It's a hiding to none, and we knew it and spoke about it, but as I said, he stepped up the challenge and I can't think of a better person to do it."

Vukona has immediately received praise from former teammates celebrating his illustrious career. 

"Mika was the first person I looked up to on the basketball court and still do," Issac Fotu tweets from Italy. "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," Potter says. "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."