Role: Point Guard and Shooting Guard
Teams: Sibenik, Cibona Zagreb, Real Madrid, Portland Trail Blazers, New Jersey Nets
Nickname: the Mozart of basketball
Micheal Jordan hated to play against Drazen Petrovic. Drazen was unlike any player he ever faced. If you let him space, he would shoot threes from deep on the court. If you tried to stay near, he’d pass you with his dribbling ability and send assists to somebody else under the basket or on the three point line.
For most of the best NBA defenders of his time, Drazen was a mystery, and enigmatic threat that could destroy you in ten different ways on the court. Shoot, pass, create a play, and have always an incredible self-esteem, almost an arrogance, which would drive his opponents out of their minds.
Drazen was born in Sibenik, Croatia, in 1964. Croatia was at the time part of Yugoslavia, a federation of states led by the puzzling personality of Marshal Tito, a Leader who kept Yugoslavia in balance between the east and the west, developing his own kind of political leadership.
But we’re not talking about politics, outside basketball politics, and in terms of Basketball Politics, Yugoslavia has always been, at least since 1970, number two or three of the world. Drazen grew up in a country in which basketball was a science. The players were built with long training sessions and coaches obsessively worked on them to make the perfect basketball player.
Drazen, in a way, was the most similar product to a perfect basketballer that the coaches ever created in there.
His first team was Sibenik, where he was coached by the former great Zoran “moka” Slavnic, a mercurial player who had been a legend in the 70s. Slavnic was able to instil in Drazen some of his features: self-confidence, passing skills, dribbling. Drazen was not a great shooter as a kid, so he woke up at 6 every day to shoot 1000 times before he went to school.
In 1982, Sibenik reached the Korac final against Limoges in Padua, Italy, that the team lost.
In 1984, Sibenik won the national championship and Mirko Novosel, the former National Team coach, thought he was the right player for the team he was coaching in Zagreb: the Cibona, in which Drazen’s brother, Aza, was already playing.
In Cibona, Novosel literally offered the team to Drazen. He was the main scorer and the best assist-man. The European defences were not ready for him. Drazen would shoot from 7 or 8 meters, or confound the defender with his dribbling ability. He was arrogant at times, his tongue always out of the mouth, like Micheal Jordan, before MJ, and willing to show his superiority.
In 1984-85 he scored an average of 43,3 points per game. In Lubiana he scored 112 (!), and Cibona won the championship, gaining the access to then Champion’s Cup, the forerunner of Euroleague.
In 1986 and 1987 Drazen dominated the competition. Scored 45 points against Milano’s powerful defense, and Cibona showed what modern basketball would look like: 3 pointers, fast players and an emphasis on the external game.
In 1987 Cibona lost in the final of the Yugo championship against Zadar, and Drazen only played the Cup’s winner cup, winning it. At the end of the 1987-88 season, he went to Real Madrid, for a then unprecedented 4 million $.
In Madrid, Drazen won everything. The championship, the King’s Cup and, again, the Cup Winner’s Cup, this last one in an incredible final, which featured Drazen against the Brazilian great Oscar Schmidt. Drazen scored 62 points.
At the end of 1989, Drazen followed his friend Vlade Divac into the NBA. He landed in Portland a team he never played well with. Drexler and Porter played guards, and everybody expected him to shoot threes after running out of a pick. But Drazen was much more than that.
He could demonstrate it in New Jersey, where he was traded the following year and coach Chuck Daly was the one who best used him. Drazen remained in New Jersey two years, scoring 20,6 points per game the first year and 23 the second year.
Before a game against Houston, Vernon Maxwell prompted out: “there still has to be a European who can beat me”. That night Drazen scored 44 points.
Drazen loved to play with his national team. He earnt the bronze medal in Los Angeles in 1984 and a silver in Seoul 88 as a Yugoslavian, and a silver for the Croatian team in 1992. With Yugoslavia he won the world championship in 1990 and the European in 1989.
He loved it so much that on June 7 1992 he played a European qualification game against Poland. He scored 30 points, but missed the last free throw, strangely. Then he had a shower and gave the keys of his Volkswagen Golf to his girlfriend. Drazen stayed on the back seats to sleep as his girlfriend drove back to Germany.
But his girlfriend lost control of the car and crushed against a truck. Drazen died in that moment. Exactly 10 years after his passport, that was to expire that day, had been issued.
The New Jersey Nets retired his number.
Yugoslavian championships: 2
Olympic Games: 2 silver and 1 bronze medal
Champions Cups: 2
Cup winner’s cups: 2
Most points in a game: 112 against Olympia Ljubljana
Average points in the NBA: 15,4
Highest average points in the NBA: 23