The legend of Drazen Petrovic in the basketball world is immortal. The Croatian made a name for himself in Europe, went to the NBA, rode the pine for a few years before finally getting a chance to prove he belongs. When he finally entered his prime years and became a borderline All-Star at 29 years old with the Nets, tragedy struck, and Drazen lost his life in a car accident. It is one of the saddest moments in the history of sports, but his legacy and legends continue to live in the stories of his family, friends, teammates, and opponents.
NBA career cut short with the best ahead of him
What made Petrovic stand out was his unmatched work ethic and competitive nature, which can be compared to the likes of MJ or Kobe. From his teenage days, Drazen was working on his game for hours a day and slowly but surely crafting into a star player. In his days with KK Sibenka, KK Cibona, and Real Madrid, Drazen proved he was the best Europe has to offer, and he naturally decided to try in the NBA at a time that didn't favor international players.
In his year and a half in Portland, Drazen really culdn't get a shot with Porter and Drexler in front of him, but a mid-season trade to the Nets revitalized Petrovic's NBA career. Alongside Derrick Coleman and Kenny Anderson, Drazen formed a great team in New Jersey, becoming their leader.
At that time, Drazen was regarded as one of the best shooters in the league, averaging 43.7% from deep while scoring over 20 points per game. During the 1992 and 1993 seasons, a valid argument could have been made that Drazen deserved to be an All-Star, but he didn't get the invite which made him a huge snub in the eyes of many, especially when you look at the fact he even made the All-NBA third team in 1993.
But Drazen was only 28 years old with the game figured out, and his confidence was rising. You could only imagine how good he could have been over the next few seasons, with an All-Star appearance being a lock. But in the 1993 offseason, as we said, his life and career tragically stopped, to the disbelief of many.
Drazen's teammate tells an untold story
Former NBA player Drazen's teammate with the Croatian national team, Stojko Vrankovic, recently shared an interesting story involving Drazen and his teammate in Boston, Larry Bird:
"It was the All-Star break. He(Drazen) came from New Jersey to Boston at my place. Larry Bird was not playing in that All-Star. So he used those three days that we go to practice and that he trains together with Larry Bird, competes who is the better shooter, and so on."
Stojko Vranković, Podcast Inkubator
This was probably happening during the 1992 All-Star game, which was Larry's last season in the NBA. Larry had severe back problems at the time, and he wasn't able to participate in the festivities. Drazen was at the time playing in his first full season with the Nets, proving he could be a star. He didn't get selected, and he decided to visit his good friend Stojko in Boston.
Vrankovic was playing in Boston for two seasons with a limited role, but at least he had the opportunity to play alongside Larry Bird and learn from him. Drazen being the competitor he is, wanted to see one of the greats first hand, study him and even compete with him. So he would visit his friend and work on his game instead of resting for the final stretch of the season.
But that is just the type of competitor Drazen was. He wasn't afraid to go against the best or learn from them, and picking Bird's brain and testing out his shooting abilities next to the great seemed like the perfect way to spend the All-Star break.