Who is Drazen Petrovic?
The answer is both simple and complicated. Happenstance and natural selection, really.
The simple answer is that Drazen Petrovic was an explosive shooting guard from the early 90s; and the more important and more correct answer is that Petrovic was instrumental in introducing America to basketball outside of the United States. Without Petrovic (and other pioneers such as Detlef Schrempf, Dino Radja, and Sarunas Marciulionis), players like Dirk Nowitski wouldn’t win the MVP. Juan Jose Barrea wouldn’t be a highly sought after commodity, and Marco Belinelli wouldn’t be a first round draft pick.
Petrovic, born in Croatia, spent his early years dominating Eastern European leagues and starring international competition, even leading his team to a silver medal behind the Dream Team in 1992. After averaging 37.7 points (with a single game high of 112 -- seriously, read that again, 112 points in a SINGLE GAME), Petrovic jumped from his Croatian team, Cibona, to the more competitive Spanish league, signing with Real Madrid. At this same time, Petrovic was drafted in the third round by the Portland Trailblazers, and after a second place finish in Spain, he jumped to the NBA in the 1989-1990 season.
Though smothered by established Blazer greats Clyde Drexler and Terry Porter, Drazen still posted impressive numbers in his rookie season, averaging 7.4 ppg in only 12 min (29.6 per 48 minutes). However, as the Blazers focused their efforts on the ultimately unfulfilled quest of an NBA championship, Petrovic was pushed even deeper to the bench, averaging only 7 minutes a game before requesting a trade 38 games in to the season.
On January 23, 1991 Petrovic joined Derrick Coleman and Kenny Anderson to form one of the most potential-laden and FreeDarko teams in league history. Petrovic would have an immediate impact as he averaged 12.6 ppg for the remainder of the season. The 1991-92 season saw Petrovic establish himself as a star in the NBA as he averaged 20.6 ppg while leading all guards in shooting percentage at the impressive clip of 51%. Furthermore, the play of Petrovic helped lead the Nets to the playoffs for the first time since 1986. Though impressive, the following season would be Petrovic’s finest. While increasing his scoring to 22.3 per and continuing to lead NBA guards in field goal percentage at 52%, Petrovic was named to the All-NBA Third Team.
However, the following summer resulted in the ultimate tragedy as Petrovic lost his life in an automobile accident on June 7th, 1993. While riding on a rain-soaked highway, Petrovic’s car slammed in to an out of control semi, killing Petrovic and leaving the other two occupants seriously injured. Just 4 months shy of his 29th birthday, Drazen Petrovic’s promise was taken, leaving only memories behind.
Though he was a devastating combo guard, Petrovic’s true legacy is the path he carved for European players who dream of playing in the NBA. Petrovic embodied every characteristic typically associated with Euros today. He was a great shooter, great passer, he really couldn’t care less about defense., and he was kind of goofy-looking. Despite his short career Petrovic was posthumously inducted in to the basketball hall of fame in 2002.
I could write all night about the impact that Petrovic had on the NBA and its influx of European talent, but it’s really a testament to his influence that that conversation could even take place. To understand where Drazen Petrovic came from is to understand how the NBA is today.