Above all else, Dražen Petrović's superpower was his love for the game that translated into an insane work ethic. He was far from the most talented player of his generation, but where others failed, Dražen pushed through. Anything other than basketball was of secondary importance, as his teammates found out in 1993.
Love of country
Dražen's love for basketball could only be matched with his love of country. While he was playing ball, his family and friends were fighting in Croatia's war of independence. Petrović carried the burden of not being there with them and did all he could to raise awareness of what was going on in the Balkans during the 1990s. For instance, Dražen participated in a protest in front of the UN with Stojko Vranković.
But the best way for Dražen to help was to do what he loved most - play basketball for his country. No matter how insignificant a game was, Petrović would show up. This was the team that made it to the Finals in Barcelona against the Dream Team. We're talking Toni Kukoč, Dino Rađa, Stojko Vranković, and a strong cast of great players on the European level.
They were good enough to go through European qualifications for international tournaments without Petro, but that was out of the question.
"What seems to be the problem?"
The team was in Wroclaw, Poland, for the EURO qualifying tournament. To remind you, the Berlin Wall and the Iron Curtain fell four years prior. Luxury wasn't in high supply at that time, and the team accommodation was consistent with that fact. Soon after arriving at the hotel, a few of the team veterans started to complain.
Mirko [Novosel] was the Head Coach, and it's not easy when several stars, veterans on the team start complaining, demanding to change the hotel. Dražen was sitting at the table, looked at them, and asked 'What seems to be the problem?' They started rambling 'The hotel sucks...,' and Dražen interrupted them. 'Listen to me. All the teams are here [in the same hotel], we came to play basketball, not on vacation. We're staying here.'
Veljko Mršić, Podcast Inkubator
Mirko Novosel is a Hall of Fame coach, a man without reproach in Croatia. But he was still under pressure until Dražen stepped in and sorted his teammates out. This is what leadership is all about. Making sure everyone on the team has their sights set on what's at stake. The only thing that mattered to Dražen was competitive balance. 'All the teams are here.' If everyone was in the same sucky hotel, all was fine by him.
Everything in Dražen's life was viewed through the prism of winning basketball games. Money, fame, and everything else were irrelevant. That's why Petrović was and is so beloved by basketball fans around the world. He just wanted to ball.