Drazen Petrovic: The name is always mentioned in any discussion of all-time greatest European player, his effect inestimable, his ultimate greatness unknowable. BallinEurope has waxed poetic on the Basketball Mozart innumerable times already, but must say that lost in the general hoopla of the Dream Team in 1992 was the fact that one of the world’s top three or four players at that time (BiE’d put him with Michael Jordan, Charles Barkley and Scottie Pippen) wasn’t on Team USA.
Following a year which saw the dissolution of his Team Yugoslavia and the finalization of his demanded trade to the New Jersey Nets, Petrovic’s brilliant 1991-92 season earned him a deserved reputation among the NBA elites. The stats say the Croat led the Nets in points (20.6 per game), shooting percentage (50.8%), three-point percentage (44.4%) and minutes played (36.9 per game with appearances in all 82 games), but they just called him team MVP.
Along with Derrick Coleman, Petrovic helped the Nets to a 14-win increase over 1990-91 and the playoffs, racking up some amazing individual performances such as the 29 he dropped on the Boston Celtics early in that season…
…and the 28 against the Atlanta Hawks a bit later.
Of course, with great skill (and playing time in the Eastern Conference) comes great responsibility. Not to mention that desire for every other gunslinger to try and take one down. In his two full seasons with New Jersey, Petrovic often found himself engaged on the battlefield by the likes of Reggie Miller…
…and the great one himself, Michael Jordan.
Petrovic was naturally proud to don the independent Croatia’s colors come Olympics time for a team which would lose just twice – to the Dream Team both times – on the way to the silver medal. Petro started right off in making a statement and added to the personal highlight reel with 22 points against Brazil in the opening game.
And in the gold-medal game, with the repression of Toni Kukoc by Jordan and Pippen no longer an issue and the US storming out to a commanding lead in the second half, MJ decided to make things a bit more personal against Croatia’s best.
Lest we forget: Petrovic carried the Olympic torch that year, too…
And everyone knows about the tragic remainder of this story, along with the reminder that we so often mark the time by the passing of giants. Forget the two decades following the Dream Team’s run – it truly feels unbelievable that next June will mark 20 years since Drazen left us. R.I.P.