Before Peja Stojakovic, Dirk Nowitzki, Tony Parker and Pau Gasol, there was Drazen Petrovic.
On Monday the Nets will celebrate the legacy of the late Drazen Petrovic. It’s been 25 years since the Hall of Famer’s tragic death, and a quarter of a century later he still hasn’t been forgotten — or replaced. Petrovic played for the team in New Jersey for two and a half seasons from 1991 to 1993. The first European player to make an All-NBA team, Petrovic’s NBA career and life was tragically cut short nearly 25 years ago when he was killed in an automobile accident in Germany.
After a nondescript rookie season as a back-up with the Trail Blazers in 1989-90, Petrovic demanded a trade-in November 1990. He was stuck behind Terry Porter, Clyde Drexler, and Danny Ainge and played just 11 minutes in the Blazers’ first six games. Off he went to New Jersey in January. He rewarded the Nets by averaging 12.6 points in 20.5 minutes, all of them off the bench. In the season 1991-1992, Petrovic proceeded to average over 20 points and shot nearly 45% from three at his Nets peak, as he was one of the first European imports to truly star on the NBA level. In his last season for the Nets, he upped his game again, to 22.3 points, and 44.9 percent from the 3-point line. Although he didn’t make the All-Star game, which frustrated him, Petrovic became the first European to make the All-NBA team that summer Other European players had come through the NCAA on their way to the NBA, but Petrovic, a 6’5” shooting guard par excellence, came straight to the states from Europe.
But that offseason, after Croatia had played a 1993 EuroBasket qualifier, Petrovic decided to drive back from Germany to Croatia with his girlfriend. On June 7, on a rain-soaked Autobahn 9, a tractor-trailer lost control and crashed into the car in which he was a passenger, and killed him.
His legend is still very much alive. The first European to be named to an All-NBA team (third team in 1993), he blazed a trail for stars such as Dirk Nowitzki, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Tony Parker, and Kristaps Porzingis. His name is on the trophy that goes to the winner of a series between NBA and European champions.