By Brian Taylor
Okay people, I know that 99.9% of basketball fans know what happened to Drazen Petrovic, but I’m writing this to shed light onto a fantastic talent that was tragically taken from us almost 14 years ago.
What made me think about Drazen today? Simple. Look at the playoffs today and check out the plethora of foreign talent that’s landed (and done well) on NBA rosters. The Suns have the Brazilian/Canadian connection with Barbosa and Nash, the Cavs’ Sasha Pavlovic is stepping up to annoy “Vin Weasel”, Yao Ming, Dirk Nowitzki, AK-47, the San Antonio Spurs and Raptors all speak to the changing face of Mr. Stern’s Neighborhood.
But even before those guys came along, the international players were few and far between, and usually they had to be “freak of nature status” to even get some burn (see: Manute Bol, Arvydas Sabonis). Sure, you had your Schrempfs and Sarunas Marciulionis, but it was Drazen Petrovic that really put the new European/International stamp on the game.
Everyone knows that the worldwide game is different than ours, with guys turning pro at an age where most American athletes are thinking about homecoming and junior proms. Drazen was no exception, being born after his brother Aleksandar, who already started playing hoops at a high level. Petrovic’s game developed quickly, and he landed a spot on the BC Sibenka squad, becoming that team’s star player at the age of 15. Not only was he a team leader, but he was clutch very early in his career. In 1983, Drazen nailed two pressure free throws to seal a championship for Sibenka (but it was rescinded later on, due to “spotty officiating”).
With the Yugoslavian national squad calling him up, it was there that Drazen went bezerk on the hardwood, often having 60-point games added to his stat sheet. In one contest, Drazen fried the opposing defenders from the arc, hitting nine from downtown (and at one point, seven in a row) for one of his most ridiculous stat lines ever, 45 points and 25 assists. After continuously beating down Europe, play station style; Petrovic decided he needed a new challenge. The Portland Trailblazers had scouted (and drafted) Drazen, but couldn’t get a hold of him until 1989. But things weren’t always rosy in Portland for Petro.
With the Showtime Lakers finally slowing down, the Portland Trailblazers seemed prime to rock the western conference crown, and did it with a hall of fame backcourt of Clyde Drexler and Terry Porter. Unfortunately, Drazen never really got any burn, and rode the pine as the Blazers rode their star guys into the finals against the Bad Boy Pistons. Petro knew he needed a change of scenery and a chance to show his stuff.
In 1991, Petro would finally get his big break, landing on an upstart new Jersey Nets team (a team that hadn’t sniffed the post season since 1986). Teaming up with Kenny Anderson and a not-yet-bipolar Derrick Coleman, Drazen enjoyed success two straight years as Jersey’s three-point marksman. He was the perfect compliment to the bruising Coleman and the speedy Anderson. The Nets went from “L.A. Clippers East”, to a legit threat to beat teams every night. Drazen lead all guards in field goal percentage and was ice cold from the free throw line. For the summer Olympics in 1992, Drazen’s squad was the only one remotely competitive with the Dram Team, leading the Croats to the silver. In one of the worst All-Star snubs in NBA history, Drazen was passed over for the 1993 game, where as a top 15 scorer he didn’t get an invite, (Cleveland’s Mark Price got that spot). You’d compare him today with a Manu Ginobili, but with a better field goal percentage.
Sadly, it all came to an end.
With the Nets’ first playoff series in ages over with, Drazen took a trip to Poland for the Croatian National Team’s tourney. Still feeling the sting of the All-Star snub, Petro considered returning to Europe to sign with a Greek team.
It was while traveling on the German Autobahn that Petro lost his life. As a sleeping passenger in a VW Golf driven by his girlfriend, an oncoming truck collided with the small car injuring the other two occupants.
The Nets retired his #3 jersey (a throwback that still elicits “oohs” and “aahs” of fans today), and the Basketball Hall of Fame inducted him in 2002.
The league, the sport and the world lost a very talented player, who’s legacy still lives on today whenever you watch NBA basketball, but if you’d like to see “Basketball’s Mozart” in action, check him out here.