Tuesday, 7 October 2014
DRAZEN PETROVIC Feature-DRAZEN
By TIM DAVID HARVEY
"I consider myself the best shooter of all-time! But there's one guy who tops me..."-Reggie Miller.
Reggie Miller, Patrick Ewing, Hakeem Olaujawon, David Robinson, Shaquille O'Neal, Charles Barkley, Gary Payton, Karl Malone, John Stockton, Scottie Pippen and of course the greatest of all-time, Michael Jordan. These are some of the best players of the golden NBA era of the 90's that many people consider to be the greatest of all times in professional basketball. Toni Kukoc, Dirk Nowitzki, Pau and Marc Gasol, Peja Stojakovic, Manu Ginoboli and Tony Parker. These are just a hoop handful of the international players that have helped export this great league to a worldwide platform and helped change the court culture of this great game. Still all these players, all these names, the golden era of basketball and all the foreign imports this game has had signed, dribbled and delivered would be nothing...NOTHING without one man. That man was Drazen Petrovic. Forget the greatest international player of all-time at one point this guy was considered up there with Jordan and like Mike all Drazen wanted to do was win. In his time the face of the game was changing...to look like him! Tragically though at approximately 17:20 on June 7, 1993, a car Petrovic was sleeping in was struck by a truck that crashed into it after losing control and crossing the roads median after trying to avoid another collision. Drazen would never wake up again. As he rests peacefully in loving memory lets open our eyes to one of the associations best members of (Inter)National Basketball. This is for you Drazen! We miss you!
"This is for you. He was my big friend and I hope he is up there watching me". It's 2001 and wild-card Wimbeldon winner Goran Ivanisevic lifts his gold trophy to the sky and the heavens his close compadre now resides in. The Croatian tennis ace winning gold in some part for all the Larry's Petrovic should have lifted. It's almost been a decade since that fateful night of tragedy. Still ten years on its all still too real and raw tears. A year later Drazen will have been elected into the Naismith Hall Of Fame, where his memory belongs. If only a grey haired number 3 was there to be inducted himself...he was, in spirit. In New Jersey a Nets team who never really had success like the powerful potential of Drazen (just to think they and the NBA where at risk of losing him), where finally taking championship pretending shape through Jason Kidd leading Kenyon Martin, Keith Van Horn/Richard Jefferson, Kerry Kittles and Todd Maculloch to two NBA Finsls. Proving a point upgrade that set the playoff bracket eating table, from his trade partner Stephon Marbury. Still even with the Kidd era, even with its Vince 'Dunk Mixtape' Carter remix redux and then this new age of B.K. nights with the Nets moving to Brooklyn, nothing has been greater for their legacy than this one legend of a time in basic, baby blue and white old jerseys for N.J. He bloomed in the Garden State when some didn't even think Jersey City existed, but like Joe Budden said, "it was gifted". The Springsteen blue collar work of this boy reborn in the U.S.A. was tougher than the rest. Always painting himself in the perfect position and unlocking perfect shots from the key like running a practice drill, this man was purist purity all wrapped up in perfect poetry of the game. He could score sneaker to toe with Mike and even leave Reggie clutching for shots. Seconds out. He brought magic to the Meadowlands. He brought a global game to a league in America that claimed to produce the world champions after 82 and a few more rounds. Losing him to a tragic automobile accident was to the NBA what losing Senna was to the Formula 1.
This game has lost too many, potential unfulfilled or not. To all too bitterly tragic events. Len Bias, Bobby Phills, Malik Sealy, Bison Dele, Eddie Griffin. We remember and honour them all in loving memory. Not just remembering them for sport, but the life they lead. Sure we all wish we had more playing time for these greats but what would be more and of upmost importance is more family time for these men. That's where our true thoughts reside. Born in Sibenik, Croatia to a police officer father and librarian mother, basketball was the branches of Petrovic's family tree. His brother Aleksander laid roots in hoops first and the basketball player Dejan Bodiroga is Drazen's second cousin. Petrovic then spent time playing with Sibenka, where he hit free throws that won cups...after the opposing team refused to show up for a controversial match-up. Still, he was even clutch back then and after a mandatory year serving in the military,Drazen would move to Cibona and relocate to European basketball stardom. A rise that today sees him voted as the greatest European ballplayer of all-time. Drazen's game was brazen, opponents petrified of Petrovic. Following in his older brothers sneaker steps the perfect pair became the best backcourt duo around winning the Yugoslav Cup, then the National Cup. 36 points later against Real Madrid came the European Cup and then a repeat a year later as Cibona defeated Žalgiris of Kaunas, and their legendary big man Arvydas Sabonis. The Portland Trail Blazers great may have entered the league a little too late as a veteran (albeit still top tier), but Drazen Petrovic wouldn't, soon to be drafted by the City of Roses team. It's all just too tragic he would leave this game and world too, too early, before he and his great competitor Sabonis could reunite in the NBA's greatest contest fight.
More glory came with the Cup Winners Cup, but the real victor was D. 'D' for domination. 'D' for Drazen. To a tune of 37.7 points per and an in game, personal best of 112. One hundred and TWELVE!? Club 112! Take that Wilt! It may not have been the NBA (does that matter though? Plus he's a guard (albeit with an extensive reach) not a dominant big man), but it soon would be. Portland, Oregon drafted him as their newly adopted son with the 60th pick in the third round. Now THAT is a criminal sleeper! Still before hitting the big leagues the super skilled player would keep it real in Madrid suiting up in Spanish colours like Christiano Ronaldo or more appropriately Ricky Rubio (the next wonder kid) in Barcelona's sister of soccer. Portland brought this kid they drafted in '86 out to the tune of a million and a half. All so they could give their pick more than a draft cap. Still uniform was replaced with practice sweats as they paid platinum plus to keep him benched in garbage time. You could even see Magic Johnson's behind the scenes, "it makes no sense", almost disgusted dismay when then Laker teammate Vlade Divac told him Drazen wasn't playing. He would have made a great big three with Clyde Drexler and Terry Porter but I shrug! His departure from the Rose Garden to the Garden State was more abrupt than his one from the Euro League but just outside of New York be was ready to go against the ultimate compeitor of a lack of playing time (which he knew would be his 'DNP-CD' Achilles heel) and show his game was Mecca mega. With young studs of the league Kenny Anderson and Derrick Coleman, 'Petro' played his heart out. Soon averaging 20, from minutes to then points and then achieving the respect he already should have had. First name terms on household teams like Reggie in Indiana and Michael in Chicago could really see beyond box-score, on court what Drazen was doing to the Nets, team and opposing. It was almost too tragic that he didn't enter the association earlier, but the Euro is a real league too. Still a cruel All-Star snub and some difficulties with envious teammates led him to consider departure from the Nets and retirement from a league where still he remains one of the best ever players. Tensions with Serbian NBA friend Vlade Divac over their countries conflict was also too tragic, although the two will always be great friends in loving memory. Always brothers. Then with a lot on his mind and club offers from Greece pending, Drazen had already played his last game in the NBA as he and his basketball playing lady friend took a drive as he rested his head and burdens...
"It was a thrill to play against Dražen. Every time we competed, he competed with an aggressive attitude. He wasn't nervous; he came at me as hard as I came at him. So, we've had some great battles in the past and unfortunately, they were short battles."-Michael Jordan.
"It's hard for you to imagine here in America, because you have so many great players, but we are a country of four million; without him, basketball takes three steps back."-Aleksander Petrovic
He was 28 years old.