Today marks the 25th anniversary of the most tragic day in the history of Croatian sports.
The early morning news on June 8th, 1993, some twelve hours after Drazen's tragic departure, left everyone in shock and disbelief - the player everyone, not just in Croatia, not just in Europe considered Ours was simply gone.
Drazen's tremendous life story and legacy today make him, particularly on Youtube.com, one of the most admired basketball players ever!
Each year on this date Croatia and it’s citizens, but also the people from all over ex-Yugoslavia, Europe, and the United States remember Drazen for all that he was. Or if you prefer - for all that he is, because he still lives in our hearts and minds, especially the ones of his tireless mother Biserka Petrovic.
Each year I ask myself, as an author of the 2015 book about Drazen Drazen - The Years of the Dragon, to write an article about basketball immortal, with a potentially new subject in mind.
I wonder, in the context of the 2018 NBA final, what would Golden State Warriors history look like, and what legacy would Drazen leave, if he somehow played for Don Nelson's Warriors in the early 1990s?
Stephen Curry, when asked, recalls Drazen and his game most vividly. In many ways, even he doesn’t openly admit it, he’s been a student of Drazen's game, which, let's be honest, transformed basketball globally.
One of the first-hand witnesses of that transformation has been Steph’s father Dell, who, back in 1985, was an important piece of the U.S. amateur selection, which under the name Golden Eagles, took part in 1985 Intercontinental Cup tournament in Spain.
That squad was full of future NBA players - The Admiral, David Robinson, still wasn’t 7’1’’ but he was already a force to be reckoned with in the paint; Larry Krystkowiak and Rafael Addison were on the wings and the perimeter featured the future NBA elite marksmen, Chuck Person and - Dell Curry.
In the beautiful Catalonian city of Girona, the NCAA’s best would get to know the player about whom all of Spain and all of Europe was talking about at that time - Drazen Petrovic.
The kid from Sibenik, playing like virtuoso which earned him the nickname Basketball Mozart in Europe, took the continent by a storm, helping Cibona Zagreb clinch the 1985 European Champions Cup (today’s Euroleague), for the first time in its history.
His on-court style of play and accomplishments he achieved from that era are best described with the nickname many used later in the United States - European Michael Jordan.
From the starting moments of that particular game, it was clear that Drazen, a player who got used to and made a full adjustment to the FIBA three-point line from its introduction in 1984, has a huge competitive edge over his U.S. counterparts, who will get their first chance to shoot the threes from the beginning of the 1986-87 season.
But make no mistake - Cibona was not a one-man team. The team coached by Hall-of-Famer Mirko Novosel today many consider as the predecessor of the modern Warriors (yup, three decades earlier) also featured Drazen’s brother Aco Petrovic, a sharp-shooting point guard, sharp-shooting small forward Zoran Cutura and experienced frontcourt of Mihovil Nakic and Andro Knego, who were all, alongside Drazen, members of the Yugoslavian NT.
Robinson would have a tough time inside matched up with great rebounders Nakic and Knego. On the perimeter, Drazen was in his usual element, trading long-range baskets with extra motivated Dell Curry, who would hit four triples that night, something he wasn't used doing in the NCAA. Cibona would overall hit 7 out of 17.
Drazen demonstrated what made him so special while in Europe - he was an ultimate triple-threat, and was also great in drawing and recognizing double teams, feeding off his brother Aco and Cutura for open shots, which they made with consistency.
The tense game would go to the overtime and after Cibona prevailed with 81:79 all of its players and coaches went onto the floor to celebrate the hard-fought victory over the very strong U.S. amateur squad.
Today, it’s a pretty sure bet that at some point in time father Dell told about this special 1980s game, somewhere overseas, to his son Stephen, as a special, untold, chapter from the unfinished tale about the Legend.
Drazen lives in Steph’s game, you can be sure of that.
1985 INTERCONTINENTAL CUP, GROUP B, 3rd ROUND
CIBONA ZAGREB vs. GOLDEN EAGLES (USA) 81-79 (28-29; 69-69; overtime)
Girona, June 25, 1985, Sacosta sports arena, around 2,500 spectators
Referees: Mikhail Davidov (USSR), Don Cline (Canada)
Cibona: Mihovil Nakic 6, Aleksandar Petrovic 27, Adnan Becic 1, Zoran Cutura 18, Damir Pavlicevic, Drazen Petrovic 19, Andro Knego 10, Branko Vukicevic, Sven Usic, Ivo Nakic, Franjo Arapovic
Golden Eagles: Carl Golston, Drexel Allen, Keith Morrison 12, Larry Polec, Rafael Addison 12, Dell Curry 18, Dave Feitl, Larry Krystkowiak 8, Chuck Person 4, David Robinson 18, Doug Altenberger 7, Steve Harris
Three-pointers: Cibona 7-17 (M. Nakic 0-2, A. Petrovic 6-10, D. Petrovic 1-5); Golden Eagles 4-14 (Curry 4-7, Altenberger 0-7)
Murray A. a.k.a. Marjan Crnogaj is BN contributor and the author of the book ‘Drazen – The Years of the Dragon’ which can be found here.