An entire generation has entered basketball since his untimely passing and while ever-growing numbers of NBA and European stars who have never seen him play emerge, all owe a debt to Dražen Petrović.
It was on this day in 1993 that the only man who realistically could have held claim to the sobriquet of “the European Michael Jordan” was killed in a car accident in Germany. As detailed most recently in the excellent ESPN “30 for 30” documentary “Once Brothers,” Petrović was a fearless, proud player with Team Yugoslavia and later Team Croatia in international play; was on the verge of entering the prime of a Hall of Fame-level career with the New Jersey Nets.
For those of you who never saw Petrović play, do yourselves a favor and take some time to watch below. For those of us fortunate enough to remember this European pioneer blazing trails all over the world, it’s a welcome (if slightly meandering) trip down memory lane. We still miss you, Dražen.
In Greece, they’re remembering Petrović this morning with a nice highlight clip running under the headline “Eighteen years without Dražen.”
History has been unkind to Petrović vis-à-vis his NBA battles with that 1990s uber-phenomenon, i.e. Michael Jordan. Surely many Nets and Chicago Bulls fans remember the battles between these two powers which were mostly, as they say these days, “epic.”
Of course, the entire world was watching when perhaps the single most memorable contest between the two went down in the 1992 Olympic final. Not only did Petrović actually outscore MJ in the game, Team Croatia’s stud relentlessly directly went at Jordan once the Dream Team began pulling away in the third quarter, turning the match into a one-on-one contest whenever both were on the floor.
Dražen’s personal highlight in that Olympics? How about six points in 10 seconds against the Greatest Team Ever Assembled?
By the way, how did the Dream Team ever come to be? Maybe part of it had to do with the star-studded and, quite subjectively, freaking awesome Team Yugoslavia squads of the late 1980s and their eclipsing of the USA’s dominance over Olympic basketball. Petrović was a marquee name among marquee names in 1988, helping lead Yugoslavia to the silver medal in Seoul. And they’d take the gold at the 1990 FIBA World Championship as well…
On the professional level in Europe, Petrović regularly contributed breathtaking performances with Šibenka, Cibona Zagreb and Real Madrid. With the first, he broke through at age 16; at Cibona, he logged two years with the club in Euroleague play, and led the side to the Korać Cup final – ironically losing out to Dejan Bodiroga’s Real Madrid – and the Yugoslav Cup title.
Success didn’t come instantaneously to Petrović when he joined the NBA for the 1989-90 and the Croatian complained that he wasn’t getting quality minutes with the Portland Trail Blazers – a legitimate gripe, considering what he’d do with the Nets.
This YouTube is entitled “Dražen Petrović Unforgettable.” Damn, was he ever.
Finally, if you haven’t yet seen “Once Brothers,” do so. And if you have, you might want to take the time to play homage to one of the all-time greats from a seminal era in NBA basketball and international basketball history.