Drazen Petrovic - Champion Basketball Player and Legend
Athletic Boy Wonder
A Bright Star Extinguished Too Soon
Dražen Petrović, from the tiny seaside town of Šibenik along the Croatian coast, managed to climb from a junior basketball star on the Balkan Peninsula to European, then international fame. Not only domineering in Yugoslavian and Croatian championships, he followed his calling to excel internationally. He was a pioneer in international recruits, becoming among the very first to be recruited to the US, later followed by Toni Kukac and many other European players who made a mark for themselves in the American Basketball mega-club, the NBA.
Known for high scoring, he averaged between 40 to 100 points in a game. He is among a handful of players in the history of basketball to have reached the level of 100 points per game.
Tragically killed in a car accident in the prime of life with only 28 years of life, just four months shy of his 29th birthday. On June 7, 1993, the car he was traveling in was mowed down by a massive big rig on a rain soaked Autobahn highway. After his untimely death, his #3 jersey was retired by the New Jersey Nets' team forever. He was posthumously admitted into the NBA Hall of Fame.
Dražen's Family Life
Born of a Croatian mother and Serbian father, he is the second child, followed by brother Alexandar (Aco) (pronounced At-So) Petrović, a talented basketball player in his own right.
Šibenik, Dalmatia, Croatia
Dražen was a first, and he came from a city of firsts.
- Šibenik was the first city built by Croatians who came into the area around the 6th century A.D., offsetting the raiding of the area by the Slavs and the Avars, who had already destroyed the metropolis of Salona, right outside the current city of Split. Its survivors re-entered the abandoned Palace of the former Roman Emperor Diocletian (of Illiric descent) and began to move the county seat to the former retirement home of the former Diocletian. His Palace was built by one of the last, and greatest, Roman Emperors, Gaius Aurelius Valerius Diocletianus who was known for dividing the Roman Empire into two, then four manageable sections (called the tetrarchy) as well as infamously for martyring many Christian saints (from 303-305 A.D) He was the only Roman Emperor to voluntarily step down; all others were most likely poisoned or otherwise murdered. His predecessor, Constantine the Great, declared the Milan Edict in 313 A.D. legalizing Christianity.
- The Croatian king Peter Krešimir was crowned king. Šibenik, Croatia's first city, was first seen in print in 1066. Today, it's a seaside town known for its Gotho-Renaissance cathedral, Sv. Jakov (Saint James) which is the masterpiece of Juraj Dalmatinac (George the Dalmatian) and Nikola Firentinac (Nikola from Firenze, or Florence). It is best known for its baptismal font and the decorative heads surrounding its exterior. Built in the 15th century, it survived an implanted bomb under the roof during the Croatian War for Independence 1991-1995.
- Sibenik has about 35,000 inhabitants, with 50,000 including the outskirts of the town. Mostly students live there, attending university. On summer break, they work at Krka Slapovi, the national park which is located on the outskirts of Šibenik. The older generation lives outside the town and dabbles in tourism, agriculture, wine production, olive oil and other Dalmatian specialties. It's a quiet, residential city, known for its Romanesque, Gothic, and Renaissance styled architecture. It is also the home of the annual children's festival every summer.
- Another famous resident of Šibenik is the attractive Croatian actor, Goran Višnjić, who starred in the American TV series ER in the late 1990s and many films.
The Šibenik Cathedral of St James (sv. Jakov)
War in Croatia
When Croatia declared independence from Greater Serbia / Yugoslavia in 1990, the War of the Homeland (Domovinski Rat) for Croatian independence quickly followed which lasted from 1991-1995.
Once Brothers - brothers no more
Troubles at home affected young Perković. This was the exact timeframe that he had begun to play in the international arena. The friendships between Croatian and Serbian team members felt the strain, in Dražen's case, with Vlade Divac. A documentary called Once Brothers was produced to discuss their irreconcilable differences. The war between the Croatian nationals and the Serbian dominated Yugoslavia made a burden between the two friends. It was a hard time for everyone.
After winning two silver medals, playing both for Yugoslavia and for Spain, he hit the big time when he joined the Portland Blazers.
His time with the Blazers was a disaster, benched for more than half of the games and allowed only 12 minutes per game. As Dražen had forecasted, the only way to not succeed at the NBA was with limited playing time, which happened. Sports and politics never make good bedfellows.
In the New Jersey Nets, Dražen was allowed to actually play and contribute, thus making a name for himself and the whole team.
A major disappointment was that he was not invited to the MVP invitational in 1993. He was the only of 13 top shooters to not be invited, perhaps due to jealousy. Dražen had more than his share of the burden to bear for his young age and talent.
A Short Bio of Dražen
Dražen was dissatisfied with the unfair treatment given him by his (probably envious) teammates, and began reconsidering his stay with the NBA. The Greek team, reputedly offered him a black check contract for a $7 Million which he had not yet signed but was strongly considering - he was weary of NBA politics.
Dražen Petrović Basketball Hall
His Untimely Death
On a rainy evening, Dražen lost his life while sleeping on the back seat of a car being driven by his girlfriend and another young woman. He had not been wearing his seatbelt. They were traveling back to Zagreb on the Autobahn.
A large big rig crossed over into his lane to avoid hitting another car, completely derailing the car that Dražen and the two young women were traveling in. To this day, the entire accident looks strange bordering on suspicious. Dražen was the only casualty. The other passengers were seriously injured, but survived.
Michael Jordan, who played against Dražen, said he was disappointed - their time together had been too short. Many felt the loss, not unlike JFK, "Johnny, we hardly knew ye".
In his short time, he opened up the door for international sport and to this day, his life is honored. No one will soon forget Dražen Petrović.