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  1. Numbered list item
Dražen Petrović
Lipofsky-JDražen Petrović.jpeg
Petrović with the New Jersey Nets in 1992.
No. 4, 9, 10, 5, 44, 3
Position: Shooting Guard
Personal information
Born: October 22, 1964
Šibenik, SR Croatia, SFR Yugoslavia
Died: June 7, 1993 (aged 28)
Denkendorf, Germany
Nationality: SFR Yugoslavia Flag.pngFlag of Croatia.png Yugoslav / Croatian
Physical stats
Listed height: 6 ft 5 in (1.96 m)
Listed weight: 195 lbs (88 kg)
Career information
NBA Draft: 1986 / Round: 3 / Pick: 60th
Selected by the Portland Trail Blazers
Playing career: 1979–1993 (14 years)
Career history
1979–1983 Šibenka
1984–1988 Cibona
1988–1989 Real Madrid
19891991 Portland Trail Blazers
19911993 New Jersey Nets
Career highlights and awards
  • All-NBA Third Team (1993)
  • 2× EuroLeague champion (1985, 1986)
  • EuroLeague Finals Top Scorer (1985)
  • FIBA European Selection (1987)
  • 4× Euroscar (1986, 1989, 1992, 1993)
  • 2× Mr. Europa Award (1986, 1993)
  • 2× FIBA Saporta Cup champion (1987, 1989)
  • 2× FIBA Saporta Cup Finals Top Scorer (1987, 1989)
  • FIBA Korać Cup Finals Top Scorer (1988)
  • Spanish League Top Scorer (1989)
  • Spanish Cup winner (1989)
  • Spanish Cup Final Top Scorer (1989)
  • Yugoslav League champion (1985)
  • 3× Yugoslav Cup winner (1985, 1986, 1988)
  • FIBA World Championship MVP (1986)
  • FIBA EuroBasket MVP (1989)
  • Best Athlete of Yugoslavia (1985)
  • Yugoslav Sportsman of the Year (1985)
  • Croatian Sportsman of the Year (1985, 1986)
  • FIBA's 50 Greatest Players (1991)
  • Olympic Order (1993)
  • 50 Greatest EuroLeague Contributors (2008)
  • No. 3 retired by the Brooklyn Nets
  • No. 10 retired by Cibona

Dražen Petrović (October 22, 1964 – June 7, 1993) was a Yugoslav and Croatian professional basketball player.

A shooting guard, he initially achieved success playing professional basketball in Europe in the 1980s, before joining the National Basketball Association (NBA) in 1989.

A star on multiple international basketball stages, Petrović earned two silver medals (1988, 1992) and one bronze (1984) at the Summer Olympic Games, a gold (1990) and a bronze (1986) at the FIBA World Cup, and a gold (1989) and a bronze (1987) at the FIBA EuroBasket. He was the MVP of the 1986 FIBA World Championship, and the MVP of the 1989 FIBA EuroBasket. With Cibona Zagreb, Petrović also won two consecutive EuroLeague championships in 1985 and 1986. He first represented Yugoslavia's senior national team and, later, Croatia's senior national team. He earned four Euroscars, and was named Mr. Europa twice. In 1985, he received the Golden Badge award for the best athlete of Yugoslavia.

Seeking a bigger arena after his career start in Europe, Petrović joined the NBA in 1989, as a member of the Portland Trail Blazers. After playing mostly off the bench that year, Petrović experienced a breakthrough following a trade to the New Jersey Nets. While starting for the Nets, he became one of the league's best shooting guards. He was named one of FIBA's 50 Greatest Players in 1991. On June 7, 1993, Petrović's career and life were cut short, after he died in a car accident, at the age of 28.

In 1993, Petrović's jersey number 3 was retired by the Nets, and the Dražen Petrović Basketball Hall was named after him in his honor. He also received the Olympic Order in 1993. In 2002, he was posthumously enshrined into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame. In 2006, the Dražen Petrović Award was created in his honor. In 2007, he was posthumously inducted into the FIBA Hall of Fame. He was named one of the 50 Greatest EuroLeague Contributors in 2008. In 2013, he was voted the best European Basketball player in history, by players at the 2013 FIBA EuroBasket.

Petrović is considered a crucial part of the vanguard to the present-day mass influx of European players into the NBA.

Early years

Born in Šibenik, Yugoslavia (present-day Croatia), Dražen Petrović was the second child of Jovan "Jole" Petrović, a police officer, and Biserka (née Mikulandra), a librarian. His father was born in a Serb family in Zagora, near Trebinje in Bosnia and Herzegovina. His mother was born in Bilice, near Šibenik, and was from a traditional conservative Croat family, devoutly Roman Catholic. The couple's eldest child, Aleksandar, was the first to play basketball and rose to become one of the top point guards in former Yugoslavia. The Petrović brothers are second cousins to the Serbian basketball player Dejan Bodiroga.

Šibenka

At the age of 13, Petrović started playing in the youth selections of the local club Šibenka; at the age of 15, he had already made the club's first team, just as Šibenka head earned a place in the Yugoslav national first division. With young Petrović as the star of the team, Šibenka reached the final of the third level Pan-European club competition, the FIBA Radivoj Korać Cup twice (1981–82 and 1982–83), where they lost to the French League club Limoges CSP both times. In 1983, the 18-year-old Petrović hit two free throws in Šibenka's victory over Bosna Sarajevo in the final playoff game of the Yugoslavian League's 1982–83 season's club championship. However, on the day after the club won the championship, the Basketball Federation of Yugoslavia stripped the title from Šibenka, because of irregularities in refereeing. The league's championship was then awarded to Bosna, after Šibenka refused to play in a rematch.

Petrović increased his scoring numbers in each successive season that he played with Šibenka. In the 1979–80 Yugoslav FFL season, he scored 13 points in 16 games, for an average of 0.8 points per game. In the 1980–81 Yugoslav FFL season, he scored 39 points in 20 games, for an average of 2.0 points per game. In the 1981–82 Yugoslav FFL season, he scored 392 points in 24 games, for an average of 16.3 points per game. In the 1982–83 Yugoslav FFL season, he scored 758 points in 31 games, for an average of 24.5 points per game. In total, he scored 1,202 points in 91 games played with Šibenka in the Yugoslav first division, for a scoring average of 13.2 points per game.

Rise to European stardom

Cibona Zagreb

1984–85 season

After a year's mandatory service in the Yugoslav military, Petrović joined his older brother Aco and moved to Cibona Zagreb, to form what was at that time, the best back court duo in Europe. In his first season in Cibona, Petrović won both the national Yugoslav League championship and the Yugoslav National Cup title. In national domestic league play, in the 1984–85 Yugoslav FFL season, Petrović scored a total of 878 points in 27 games played, for a scoring average of 32.5 points per game.

On 6 December 1984, in the 1984–85 season of Europe's top-level club competition, the FIBA European Champions Cup (EuroLeague), Petrović scored 44 points in a game against the Spanish League club Real Madrid. He scored 29 of the 44 points in the second half of the game. Petrović also scored 36 points in the league's 1985 Final against Real Madrid. Cibona won the game, by a score of 87–78, and the win brought the club their first top-tier level European Champions Cup title. That season, in Europe's top-level club competition, which eventually became known as the EuroLeague, Petrović scored a total of 463 points in 15 games played, for a scoring average of 30.9 points per game.

1985–86 season

On 5 October 1985, in a Yugoslav First Federal League game against Union Olimpija Ljubljana, Petrović scored 112 points, in Cibona's 158–77 blowout win. He scored 67 of the 112 points in the first half of the game. During the game, Petrović shot 40/60 from the field, 10/20 from 3-point range, and 22/22 from the free-throw line.

The 112 points scored was the most points ever scored in a single game in the history of the Yugoslav First Federal League. It broke the league's previous single-game scoring record of 74 points, which was set in 1962, by Radivoj Korać. Korać achieved that record while playing with OKK Beograd, in a game against Mladost Zagreb. However, the record was achieved under unusual circumstances.

Olimpija Ljubljana had failed to fulfill their player registration administrative obligations in time for the game. Olimpija general manager Radovan Lorbek was reportedly late with submitting a registration letter to the Basketball Federation of Yugoslavia (KSJ) headquarters in Belgrade. That rendered their entire men's first team roster ineligible for the Yugoslav First Federal League's regular season opening game, and forced them to instead field players for the game from their youth systems. Unfortunately, Olimpija didn't have an under-18 youth squad that season. So the club had to go to Zagreb to play the game with even younger players. In the end, the team that Olimpija took to Zagreb to play against Cibona, consisted of players in the under-16 and under-17 age groups, which included: Igor Đurović, Matjaž Strmole, Jože Maček, Dag Kralj, Tine Erjavec, Jure Zorčič, Gregor Stražiščar, Andrej Novina, and Tine Merzelj.

Cibona, for their part, decided to use a mixed roster for the game, consisting of players from their youth system, plus their senior men's team's twenty-one-year-old young superstar Dražen Petrović, who used the opportunity of playing against the inferior youth squad opposition to shatter Korać's single-game Yugoslav League scoring record of 74 points. Petrović ended up with 112 points scored in the game, despite the fact that before the game, he had reportedly announced his intention to exit from the game, once he had surpassed Korać's 74 points record. Petrović was one of only five Cibona players to get on the score sheet that day. The other four were eighteen-year-old Dražen Anzulović with 16 points, eighteen-year-old Vladimir Rizman with 14 points, nineteen-year-old Ivo Nakić with 12 points, and Ivan Šoštarec with 4 points.

Overall, in the 1985–86 Yugoslav FFL season, Petrović scored a total of 1,241 points in 30 games played, for a scoring average of 41.4 points per game. That season, Petrović also won another Yugoslav National Cup title with Cibona. On 7 February 1986, Petrović scored 55 points in a Yugoslav Cup game against Union Olimpija Ljubljana. He also scored 46 points in the 1986 Yugoslav Cup's Final against Cibona's old rivals Bosna Sarajevo.

On 4 December 1985, in a 1985–86 season FIBA European Champions Cup (EuroLeague) game against the Israeli Super League club Maccabi Tel Aviv, Petrović scored 44 points. In the same European Champions Cup season, on 11 December 1985, he had 47 points and 25 assists in a game against the then reigning Italian League champions Simac Milano. In another European Champions Cup game that season, on 16 January 1986, Petrović scored 49 points, and had 20 assists against the Spanish League club Real Madrid. On 22 January 1986, in a European Champions Cup game against the French League club Limoges, Petrović made ten 3-pointers, including seven in a row during a first-half stretch, for a final tally of 51 points and 10 assists in the game. The 51 points scored was also his personal career-high scored in a single EuroLeague game.

Eventually, Petrović won his second straight FIBA European Champions Cup (EuroLeague) title with Cibona, as he scored 22 points in the league's 1986 Final, in which Cibona defeated the USSR Premier League club Žalgiris Kaunas, which starred the legendary Arvydas Sabonis. In the 1985–86 European Champions Cup (EuroLeague) season, Petrović scored a total of 555 points in 15 games played, for a scoring average of 37.0 points per game.

1986–87 season

In the 1986–87 Yugoslav FFL season, Petrović scored a total of 932 points in 25 games played, for a scoring average of 37.3 points per game.

In that same season, Cibona competed in the European-wide secondary level FIBA European Cup Winners' Cup competition. Petrović led Cibona to the championship, as he scored 28 points against the Italian League club Scavolini Pesaro, in the league's 1986–87 season Final. It was the third straight European-wide club championship for Petrović and Cibona.

In the 1986–87 FIBA European Cup Winners Cup season, Petrović scored a total of 270 points in 8 games played, for a scoring average of 33.8 points per game.

1987–88 season

With Cibona, Petrović again won the Yugoslav National Cup title in 1988. In the 1987–88 Yugoslav FFL season, Petrović scored a total of 860 points in 24 games played, for a scoring average of 35.8 points per game.

In that same season, Cibona competed in Europe's third level club competition, the FIBA Korać Cup. On 14 October 1987, Petrović scored 62 points in a 1987–88 FIBA Korać Cup season game against the Finnish League club KTP Kotka. Petrović led Cibona to the Finals of the Korać Cup, where they lost to the Spanish League club Real Madrid. During the Korać Cup season, Petrović scored a total of 401 points in 12 games played, for a scoring average of 33.4 points per game.

During his four seasons with Cibona, Petrović scored a total of 3,911 points, in 106 games played in the national Yugoslav First Federal League, for a scoring average of 36.9 points per game. With Cibona, he also scored a total of 559 points, in 20 games played, for a scoring average of 28.0 points per game, in the Yugoslav Cup competition. In the three Pan-European club competitions that he played in with Cibona, he scored a total of 1,689 points in 50 games played, for a scoring average of 33.8 points per game.

With both Šibenka and Cibona, Petrović's career scoring numbers in the Yugoslav First Federal League were 5,113 points scored, in 197 games played, for a career scoring average of 26.0 points per game. In the top-level European-wide club competition, the FIBA European Champions Cup, which is now known as the EuroLeague, Petrović scored a career total of 1,018 points in 30 games played, for a career scoring average of 33.9 points per game.

Real Madrid

After his string of very successful seasons with Cibona Zagreb, Petrović needed new challenges that Cibona and the Yugoslav First Federal League could no longer offer him. The NBA's Portland Trail Blazers had already used their third-round draft pick on the young Petrović, in the 1986 NBA draft, but he had decided to postpone his departure to the United States. In 1988, rather than go to the NBA, he instead signed with the Spanish League club Real Madrid, for around US$4 million in net income. At that time, Yugoslav sporting laws stipulated that players could not professionally move abroad until they had reached the age of 28. Petrović was still only 23 when he signed with Real Madrid. In 2014, José Antonio Arízaga, the sports agent who played a key role in Petrović's 1988 summer transfer from Cibona to Real, recalled a few details from the transaction: "I spoke to Mirko Novosel, Dražen's head coach at Cibona, and he told me two things. One, every problem in Yugoslavia can be taken care of with the right amount of money, and two, if Dražen leaves, every other player under 28 will be leaving and it'll be chaos. So, you can imagine all the individuals I had to bribe and all the places where I had to pay up, in order to circumvent this law".

1988–89 season

Petrović helped Real to win the title of the 1989 edition of the Spanish King's Cup, over their Catalan rivals, Barcelona. In the Spanish ACB League's Finals, Real Madrid narrowly lost to Barcelona, in the fifth and decisive game of the series. In the Spanish League's 1988–89 ACB season, Petrović was the league's regular season top scorer. Including the playoffs, he scored a total of 1,327 points, in 47 games played, for a scoring average of 28.2 points per game. Petrović's first season in Spain's ACB was also his last, but he still holds the ACB's single-game Finals records for the most points scored, with 42, and for the most three-pointers made, with 8.

In European-wide club competition, Real Madrid competed in the European secondary level FIBA European Cup Winners' Cup. On 14 March 1989, in the 1988–89 Cup Winners' Cup Final against the Italian League club Snaidero Caserta, Petrović tied his previous best scoring performance in a European-wide club competition with 62 points.

Petrović was pressured to join the NBA, by the Trail Blazers, who had drafted him 60th overall in 1986. Being motivated by the potential new challenges that the NBA presented, Petrović finally decided to try to establish himself in the league. He left Spain rather abruptly, at the end of the season; the Blazers assisted him in the process, by buying out his contract with Real Madrid, for as much as US$1.5 million. Petrović finally joined the Blazers for the 1989–90 season.

NBA career

Portland Trail Blazers (1989–1991)

The Blazers valued Petrović as a shooter, but were concerned that he might not possess the quickness to play guard or the foot speed to play defense. They brought him onto the team primarily as an outside threat to shoot three-pointers. In the Blazers' offensive scheme he was to set up behind the line, receive a passed ball and go directly up to release his shot. Petrović was an aggressive, attacking player who was used to creating his shot and shots for his teammates. Taking the ball out of his hands and making him a static shooter was foreign to him. Making matters worse, the Blazers already had a full rotation of guards, with a starting backcourt of Clyde Drexler and Terry Porter, and with veteran Danny Young as a reserve. Consequently, the reigning La Gazzetta dello Sport Euroscar European Player of the Year saw limited playing time. He had difficulty being productive in the limited role the Blazers had for him. In his rookie year during the 1989–90 NBA season, he averaged 7.4 points in 12 minutes per game. The following season veteran guard Danny Ainge was added to the team, and Petrović's playing time dropped further to 7 minutes a game. In many statements made prior to arriving in Portland, Petrović had said he saw a lack of playing time as the only possible obstacle to his success in the NBA. He was determined to be a success in basketball's highest arena. His lack of playing time during his second season in the league brought Petrović's frustration to a climax: "I have nothing to say to Adelman any more and vice versa. Eighteen months have passed by, too long. I have to leave to prove how much I am worth. Never in my life did I sit on the bench and I don’t intend to do that in Portland."

At his insistence, 38 games into the season (20 of which held no playing time for Petrović), a three-way trade with the Denver Nuggets sent him to the New Jersey Nets in exchange for a first-round pick in the following draft and Walter Davis, who was sent from Denver to Portland.

New Jersey Nets (1991–1993)

On 23 January 1991, Petrović became a member of the New Jersey Nets. He joined a team that had not reached the playoffs since 1986, but had rookie Derrick Coleman, the number one selection from the 1990 draft. He was immediately given a role on the floor, with 20.5 minutes per game. His scoring over the remaining 43 games increased to 12.6 points per game, one of the league's best points-per-minute ratios. The following year, he and Coleman were joined by Kenny Anderson, giving the team a third talented new addition. Petrović was made a starter for the 1991–92 season, his first full season with the Nets. Petro, as the Americans had dubbed him, did not miss a single game. On March 13, 1992, Petrović scored 39 points while shooting 65% from the field, and 100% (3 of 3) from 3 point range, in a 110-108 win against the Boston Celtics. His determination, hard work and aggressive on-court demeanor established him as a team leader. In 36.9 minutes on the floor he averaged 20.6 points. Petrović led the Nets in field-goal shooting and free-throw shooting, and his field goal percentage of 51% placed him near the top of all NBA guards. More importantly, his success translated into success for the team. The Nets made the playoffs, recording 14 more wins than the previous year. On April 23, 1992, in Game 1 of their first round matchup against the Cleveland Cavaliers, Petrović scored a playoff career-high 40 points. The Nets would eventually lose the best of 5 series 3 games to 1. The following season saw Petrović increase his scoring average to 22.3 ppg, 11th best in the league.

On December 6, 1992, he was named MVP of the Week. On February 4, 1993, Petrović played a career-high 53 minutes and scored 35 points in an overtime win against the Seattle SuperSonics. For the second season in a row he shot 45% from the three-point arc. His field goal percentage of 52% was again near the top for all guards. American media honored him with a selection to the All-NBA Third Team. However, he did not receive an invitation to the 1993 All-Star game. Among the top 13 scorers in the NBA that season, he was the only one not invited.

In an interview on the Scoop B Radio Podcast, Petrović's Nets teammate, Chucky Brown marveled at Petrović's healing ability. Brown told Brandon Scoop B Robinson that he remembered Petrović spraining his knee and was slated to miss two months. Petrović rehabbed so hard that he ended up only missing two weeks.

Death and legacy

In the summer of 1993, after his best NBA season and the Nets' first-round elimination by the Cleveland Cavaliers, Petrović traveled to Berlin, where the Croatian national team was playing a qualification tournament for the 1993 EuroBasket. He was contemplating departure from the Nets, disappointed with the fact that the Nets had not yet extended his contract. He told American reporters that the lack of recognition in the league made him also consider leaving the NBA completely and playing club basketball in Greece. There were at least two Greek clubs ready to offer Petrović three-year contracts worth US$7.5 million net. Petrović decided to skip the connection flight back to Zagreb and drive with his girlfriend back to Croatia.

Petrović died in a traffic accident at about 5:20 p.m. on 7 June 1993. On the rain-drenched Autobahn 9, he was a passenger in a car that was cut off by a semi-truck at Denkendorf near Ingolstadt in the German state of Bavaria. According to the report of the Ingolstadt police, that afternoon a truck broke through the Autobahn median, the driver was trying to avoid a collision with a personal vehicle in his own lane and lost control of the truck, crashing through the median barrier and finally coming to a stop and blocking all three lanes of traffic going in the opposite direction. Seconds later, the Volkswagen Golf carrying a sleeping Petrović in the passenger seat crashed into the truck, killing him and leaving the driver, Klara Szalantzy, a Hungarian model and basketball player with whom Petrović was romantically involved, and Hilal Edebal, a female Turkish basketball player, with grave injuries. It was established that visibility on the road was very poor and that Petrović was not wearing a seatbelt.

Petrović's tomb at Mirogoj Cemetery instantly became a sanctuary for his compatriots. The Cibona stadium was renamed the Dražen Petrović Basketball Hall on 4 October 1993, and the city of Zagreb dedicated a square in his name, which was later followed by Šibenik and Vukovar, while Petrinja dedicated a street to him. Before Game 1 of the 1993 NBA Finals, the NBA held a moment of silence for Petrović, whose death occurred two days before the event began. The Nets retired his number 3 jersey on 11 November 1993. After 1994, the MVP award at the McDonald's Championship bore the name Dražen Petrović Trophy, and the Croatian Olympic Committee's award for young athletes was named for him in 2006. On 29 April 1995, a statue commemorating Petrović's significance to the world of sports was erected in front of the Olympic Museum in Lausanne, Switzerland, thus making him only the second athlete to receive this honor. On 9 July 2001, having defeated Patrick Rafter to win the men's singles title at Wimbledon, Croatian tennis player Goran Ivanišević dedicated the win to Petrović; Ivanišević wore Petrović's Nets jersey amidst the 100,000 strong crowd celebrating his victory in Split. Petrović was inducted posthumously into the Basketball Hall of Fame in 2002. In 2006, the 13th anniversary of Petrović's death was marked with the opening of the Dražen Petrović Memorial Center in Zagreb, dedicated to his life and achievements, with ten themed galleries of multimedia content outlining his entire career and a four-meter-high (13 ft) statue of Dražen in shooting position in front of it. Petrović was enshrined in the FIBA Hall of Fame in 2007.

The 2010 documentary, Once Brothers (part of the ESPN 30 for 30 series), portrays the achievements of the Yugoslavia national basketball team in the late 1980s and early 1990s, and how the Yugoslav Wars tore the team apart. It explores Petrović's broken friendship with Serbian/Yugoslav player Vlade Divac. In 2011, a statue of him as a little boy sitting on a bench with a ball was unveiled in Šibenik, and his old room was renovated the way it looked when he was young, as a first part of opening a Memorial Center in his hometown. During the 2012 Three Point Shootout, New Jersey Nets guard Anthony Morrow wore Petrović's jersey in the latter's honor. In 2015, Australian writer Todd Spehr released a 470-page biography on Petrović, titled Dražen: The Remarkable Life & Legacy of the Mozart of Basketball. On 3 June 2015, Croatian basketball journalists Marjan Crnogaj and Vlado Radicevic released a 487-page biography which global paperback edition was released on 14 October 2017.

Reactions

"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."

—Aleksandar "Aco" Petrović

"You know, there is a saying that we have about JFK, John F. Kennedy – "You know, Johnny, we never got to know you." And I kind of feel that way about Dražen. I felt that the whole year that I was with him went by too fast and I really never got to know him the way I would have liked to."

"Dražen and I were very good friends. I was one of those people who welcomed him to Portland when he came from Europe. We talked about his family a lot in his restaurant, and he enjoyed his friends and he enjoyed the game of basketball. I really respect him because he worked very, very hard. Each and every day in practice he would be the first guy to come and the last guy to leave the gym. So anybody with that kind of dedication...you have to have a lot of respect for him."

"Dražen Petrović was an extraordinary young man, and a true pioneer in the global sports of basketball. I know that a lasting part of his athletic legacy will be that he paved the way for other international players to compete successfully in the NBA. His contributions to the sport of basketball were enormous. We are all proud of the fact we knew him."

"It was a thrill to play against Dražen. Every time we competed, he competed with an aggressive attitude. He wasn't nervous; he came at me as hard as I came at him. So we've had some great battles in the past and unfortunately, they were short battles."

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