The NBA is filled with players from all over the world, from Europe to South America, Africa, Australia, the league has become the most diverse it has ever been. Over the years, we've seen European Players getting picked early in the draft nowadays because NBA organisation believes that any player can be great, irrespective of his background. The Euroleague has become the second best league when it comes to talent but all of this would not have been possible, if it wasn't for the man who popularized European style basketball in the States, the man who opened the doors for other European players to have a chance at making the NBA.
WHERE IT ALL STARTED
Drazen Petrovic was born on October 22nd 1964 in Sibenik which at that time was part of the Socialist Republic of Croatia that was under control of Yugoslavia. He started playing basketball at a very early age and primarily played in local clubs in the city. As a teenager Petrovic lead his local Sibenik team to the finals of FIBA Junior Cup but then afterwards he had to go to the military. After serving his time in the military, he moved to Cibona Croatia and joined a team that played in Yugoslavia league. They competed for the Euroleague title for multiple years when Petrovic was there. He made a name for himself in the league and displayed his dominance in the sport. In his 4 years, he averaged 37 points in the Yugoslavian division and 33.8 points in Euroleague Competitions. He would regularly score 40 or 50 easily in a game and even scored 60 points one time. Petrovic went on to win 2 Euroleague Championships from 1984 to 1988, where one of those titles came against a team led by Arvydas Sabonis who was arguably the greatest European Basketball Player at that time.
THE EUROLEAGUE PHENOM
Petrovic actually got drafted by the Portland Trail Blazers in the 1986 NBA draft. He was the 60th overall pick but he couldn't come to the NBA. There was a law in Yugoslavia that players were not allowed to play professionally abroad until 28 years and Petrovic was only 22 at that time. He was able to counter this law by transferring to Real Madrid in Spain where he only played for one season in which, he led the league in scoring and also led his team to Spanish league title. He still holds the records for the most points scored in the Euroleague final i.e.. 42 points. After his dominating first season in Euroleague, he was basically kind of bored as he felt that competition was not up to his level and wanted a bigger challenge.
CROATIAN NATIONAL HERO VS THE DREAM TEAM
Drazen has won 3 gold 3 silver and 3 bronze medals playing for his national team in FIBA World Cup, FIBA EuroBasket and Universiade Olympics. In 1986 USA won the FIBA World Cup, but Petrovic was named the Tournament's MVP. His most recognizable performance came in the finals of 1992 Olympics where the newly independent Croatia faced the USA Dream Team in a game where the odds were stacked completely against Croatia. Croatia played exceptionally well in the first half, but when Petrovic was benched in the second half, they eventually went on to lose the game by a score of 117 - 85. Petrovic led the game in scoring by scoring 24 points in that game.
DEVASTATING START OF DRAZEN'S NBA CAREER
Drazen Petrovic made the decision to go back to the NBA and play for the Portland Trail Blazers at the start of the 1989 to 1990 season. He had a rough start to his NBA career where the Trail Blazers believed that he was not fast enough to play defence or athletic enough to drive to the rim. This was how all European players were perceived at that time and hence, they brought him off the bench. He was asked just to stand behind the three point line and wait for a pass, then shoot a three pointer. He wanted to do more in offense and not just stand there like nothing. Petrovic second season was even worse where he averaged only 7 points outside of garbage time. He revolted against the decision of starting off the bench and not being a key contributor to the team.
THE TURNING POINT IN HIS NBA CAREER
His wish was granted by the Trail Blazers by trading him to the Nets in 1991-92 season. Petrovic worked himself into the starting ineup of the Nets and this season was more motivating for him where he averaged 20.6 points while shooting 50% from fiels and 44% from behind the arc. At that time three pointers were not that popular and shooting 44% from 3pt range with over 3 attempts per game was insane. He also led the Nets to playoffs for the first time in 6 years which translated that his game style can also convert into wins.
THE TRAGIC LOSS OF THE EUROPEAN LEGEND WHICH SHOOK THE NBA
In the next season he went on to average 22 points shooting 52% from field and 45% from 3pt range and led the Nets to playoffs again also making his way to the all NBA third team. He was going pretty good and hoping for a contract extension, but unfortunately in the summer of 1993, when Petrovic was travelling in Germany with his girlfriend where he met a brutal accident by a truck. The weather was not good that day and Petrovic's driver didn't react fast enough to dodge the truck and crashed into it. Petrovic didn't had his seatbelt on and was sleeping, due to which he died on the spot.
His death was shocking for the basketball world as no player had ever died while playing in their prime. Petrovic changed the landscape of the NBA forever. Before Petrovic entered the league, players and coaches thought that European players were soft, unathletic, slow and straight up and hence, did not belong in the NBA but Petrovic was the reason why this perception all changed. Players like Michael Jordan and Reggie Miller believed that Petrovic was the best shooter they played against. Reggie Miller even said that his shot release was faster than Stephen Curry, and he was altogether a better player than Curry. Petrovic would have been for a perfect player for the current NBA where handles, speed and shooting have become a major factor in wins. Petrovic was the Curry, when there was actually no Stephen Curry.Published 09 Jun 2018, 17:48 IST