Drazen Petrovic, a name often overlooked when discussing the greatest NBA players of all time, deserves recognition not because of any lack of talent, effort, or will to win, but because of a tragic event that cut short his promising career.
Petrovic was born on October 22, 1964, in Sibenik, Croatia. His passion for basketball was sparked by his desire to emulate his older brother, and he dedicated himself to the sport. He would regularly participate in pickup games at a local court and spent countless hours honing his skills alone. Petrovic’s unwavering dedication and determination earned him admiration and respect from others.
Clyde Drexler, a close friend of Petrovic, spoke fondly of him, highlighting his strong work ethic and commitment. Petrovic would arrive early and leave late during practice sessions, earning the respect of his peers. Petrovic’s own expectations and self-imposed pressure were often higher than anyone else’s.
New Jersey Nets coach Chuck Daly described Petrovic as a cheerful individual who always wore a smile, but behind that facade was a serious and focused basketball player. Petrovic’s style of play was often likened to an art form, earning him the nickname “The Croatian Mozart.”
Petrovic gained recognition in Europe while playing for Croatian teams KK Sibenka and KK Cibona. At the age of 15, he made Sibenka’s first team and reached the league finals twice, although controversy marred their success. Despite winning the championship game, the victory was stripped due to refereeing irregularities, leading to a rematch that Sibenka refused to participate in.
After completing a year of military service, Petrovic joined KK Cibona, where he won the Yugoslav championship and the national cup in his first year. His remarkable performance came in 1985 when he scored 112 points in a game against KK Union Olimpija, a feat that seemed almost mythical.
Petrovic’s success continued when he entered the NBA. Initially drafted by the Portland Trailblazers in 1986 as the 60th pick, he struggled to find playing time behind established players like Clyde Drexler. Eventually, he requested a trade and was sent to the New Jersey Nets.
With the Nets, Petrovic received the playing time he desired and quickly established himself as a valuable player. In his first full season, he became a leader on the team, averaging 26.6 points per game and playing in all 82 games. Petrovic’s exceptional three-point shooting skills made him popular among fans and the league.
Despite his remarkable performance, Petrovic did not make the All-Star game, leading him to feel unrecognized and contemplate leaving the NBA. In the 1992 Olympic Games, he led the Croatian national team to the gold medal game against the legendary “Dream Team” from the United States. Although Croatia did not win, Petrovic outscored all other players on the court that night, leaving a lasting impression.
Tragically, on June 7, 1993, Petrovic’s life was cut short in a car accident on a German highway. He was only 28 years old, and his death shook the basketball world. Petrovic had shown immense potential and was on the path to becoming one of the best scorers in the NBA. His loss was mourned globally, leaving people wondering what more he could have achieved.
Petrovic’s impact on the NBA was significant. As the first international player to make a meaningful impact in the United States, he paved the way for future international players. NBA commissioner David Stern acknowledged Petrovic’s contribution to the sport and his role in promoting international participation in the league.
Although his life was tragically cut short, Petrovic’s legacy remains immense. He was both an international hero and a rising star in the NBA. The New Jersey Nets retired his No. 3 jersey, symbolizing his lasting impact on the organization.
Drazen Petrovic accomplished a great deal in his short life. However, his untimely death robbed the world of witnessing his full potential and the brilliance he could have brought to the game of basketball.