Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Drazen Petrovic: What could have been

Ever hear of Dirk Nowitski? How about Pau Gasol?

If Drazen Petrovic have the heart of a champion, you wouldn't have.

If you didn't get a chance to watch the lastest ESPN "30 for 30" film, "Once Brothers", it tells an absolutely captivating story about how Drazen and former NBA star, Vlade Divac's once inseperable bond on and off the court was torn apart due to war and politics between Croatia and Serbia in the late 1980's.

Tragically, Petrovic died in a car accident in 1993 at the young age of 28; the peak of his NBA career and without making peace with Divac. The basketball world was left asking what could have been.
It was known overseas that this man was one of the best to lace up a pair of Nikes, but everyone in the United States was just starting to realize how good Drazen Petrovic really was.

Draz first made his splash onto the scene back home in Croatia when he signed to play professionaly at the age of 15. Over 10 years, Drazen won three Olympic medals, four FIBA Championship medals (one gold), won six separate European Player of the Year awards and once scored 112 points in a single game. Not bad.

In 1989, he brought his talents to the NBA with the Portland TrailBlazers and saw limited time off the bench. Stuck behind Hall of Famer, Clyde Drexler, in the rotation. Petrovic worked harder than ever in the gym and on the court. He was traded to Nets halfway through the 90-91 season and that's when people who were unfamiliar started to realize he was one of the best in the world.

Getting more playing time in 91-92, he averaged 20.6 points per game and improved the win total of a young Nets team by 14 to help them reach the playoffs. In 92-93, his final year, he averaged over 22 points a game and was named 3rd team All-NBA. Somehow, he wasn't named to the All-Star team that year and he began to contemplate going back overseas to play in Greece before his untimely death.

Drazen Petrovic constantly had the terrors of what was going on back home in the back of his mind, but courageously shifted his fire and energy into every second he was on the court, whether he was on top of the world or losing by 20.

He was regarded as one of the most fierce competitors and greatest shooters of his time. He may not have garnered the adulation he deserved during his short life, but he was recognized for his contributions by having his #3 retired by the Nets in 1993 and being inducted into The National Basketball Hall of Fame in 2002. A statue of Petrovic also stands in front of the Olympic Museum in Switzerland, he was the second athlete to ever receive such a high honor.

"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."

-"Aco" Petrovic

And to think...he was just getting started.

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