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Drazen Petrovic: The story of a star that didn’t get to shine

Goran Blazeski

“Drazen Petrovic was my nemesis, I could not stand this guy, but to this day I respect him because I think he is the best shooter I’ve ever seen in my life.”

 Reggie Millier

During the 1980s, there were some changes in the makeup of the NBA, one of these changes was the arrival of talented European players in America. Drazen Petrovic was one of those talented European players that came to America.

Drazen Petrovic was a two-time Olympic silver medalist, a leader of the national team of Yugoslavia, and one of the NBA’s top shooting guards in four seasons with the Portland Trail Blazers and later with the New Jersey Nets.

Dražen Petrović with new Jersey Nets. Lipofsky
Dražen Petrović with new Jersey Nets. Photo Credit

Drazen grew up in Sibenik, a small port city on the Adriatic Sea. His brother Aleksander was an inspiration for him to start playing basketball. They spent hours playing basketball on makeshift courts. He was getting better and better day after day, and when he was barely into his teens he began touring with the Yugoslavian national team.

He was only 15-years old when he made Sibenka’s first team. After that, he joined his brother Aleksander in KK Cibona team. That year, KK Cibona won both the Yugoslav championship and the national cup.

At the Olympic Games in Seoul, Petrovic led Yugoslavia to the silver medal. In 1985, he had a performance to be remembered, he scored 112 points against Slovenian team KK Union Olimpija, in the First Yugoslavian Basketball league.

He had an average of 37.7 points in his four seasons with KK Cibona and was Croatian player of the year all four years. In 1988, he went to Madrid to play for Real Madrid and promptly led the club to the European Cup championship.

Petrović and Dino Rađa, holding the flag of Croatia. Photo Credit
Petrović and Dino Rađa, holding the flag of Croatia. Photo Credit

He was drafted by the Portland Trailblazers and his first NBA season was 1989-90. He wasn’t playing a lot in Portland so he requested a trade and he was sent to the New Jersey Nets. There, he reached an average of 26.6 points per game. Now everybody knew who “Petro” was.

He was popular for his incredible three-point shooting ability. In the 1991-92 season, he was an impressive 44.4 percent three-point shooter. He ended 1992-93 NBA season 11th in the league in points per game and third in three-point field goal percentage by shooting 45 percent behind the arc.

He led the Croatian national team to the silver medal at the Olympic Games in Barcelona. They played against the United States Dream Team, which featured such NBA rivals as Michael Jordan and Magic Johnson, and he outscored all other players on the court that night.

Michael Jordan described his experience playing against Drazen, “It was a thrill to play against Drazen. 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.”

Dražen Petrović's Nets jersey; his number 3 was retired by the team following his death. Photo Credit
Dražen Petrović’s Nets jersey; his number 3 was retired by the team following his death. Photo Credit

Fans loved him because of his enthusiasm and energy, and his coaches admired his personality. “You couldn’t have wanted a better teammate,” New Jersey Head Coach Chuck Daly told the Newark Star-Ledger.

Unfortunately, his career ended too early when he died in a car accident on a highway in Ingolstadt, Germany. He passed away when he was only 28 years old, just as he was entering his prime in a sport that he had worked so hard to master. Petrovic was becoming one of the best scorers in the entire NBA. For sure he would have continued to improve and become one of the most popular players in the league.

Petrović statue outside Dražen Petrović Basketball Hall. Photo Credit
Petrović statue outside Dražen Petrović Basketball Hall. Photo Credit

His early death left so many questions unanswered. Petrovic could have gone on to be one of the league leaders, or even the leading scorer in the league, for years to come. He could have led the Nets to that NBA title that they are still searching for today. Petrovic’s No. 3 jersey is retired by the Nets organization.

Goran Blazeski

Goran Blazeski is one of the authors writing for The Vintage News