Tomorrow night will see the ESPN premiere of the latest in its “30 for 30” documentary series, “Once Brothers.” This film focuses on the Yugoslavian basketball squads of 1988-1991, dream teams that included rosters filled with names such as Vlade Divac, Drazen Petrovic, Toni Kukoc, Dino Radja, Predrag Danilović, Stojan Vranković, and Jure Zdovc.
When the former Yugoslavia fell into chaos in a bloody civil war, team cornerstones Divac and Petrovic stopped talking, their close friendship instantly shattered in a moment of time in which Divac’s motivations were misunderstood. Despite the fact that they had entered the history books together as FIBA World Champions and again as the first two Yugoslavians to play in the NBA, they would never exchange a word again.
Petrovic was killed in a car accident following the 1992-93 and until the filming of “Once Brothers,” Divac and the other Team Yugoslavia players had never dealt with the demons of war that still affected their lives nearly two decades on.
A joint effort of ESPN and NBA Entertainment, Michael Tolajian was chosen to run the show in this director-centric series. Tolajian first came to NBA Entertainment straight out of college in 1989, “back when there was maybe 30 people working there,” he says. And while Tolajian has since formed his own production company in Los Angeles and has had a hand in many projects, including the “World Series of Poker” TV program since 2006, he always seems to come back to basketball.
Maybe most notably, Tolajian produced the 2000 documentary “Whatever Happened to Michael Ray?” for NBA Entertainment, a fantastic (and cameo-packed) look at the rise and fall of late 1970s/early 80s superstar “Sugar Ray” Richardson narrated with gusto by Chris Rock. His “I Am A Celtic” is a look at the 2006-07 Boston Three Party as seen through the eyes of legends Sam Jones, John Havlicek and Bob Cousy.
Tolajian talked with BallinEurope about “Once Brothers,” a highly personal story that encompasses much of the human experience itself – as well as present some fantastic international basketball history.