His nickname was The Mozart of Basketball, and it was a perfect fit. A virtuoso on the basketball court, Dražen Petrović was one of a kind. But what made Dražen special wasn’t his talent – he actually wasn’t even the most talented player in his family. It was his hunger and drive to win every game. In that regard, he was as ruthless as Michael Jordan or Kobe Bryant.
Dražen’s older brother Aleksandar actually had more talent. Nicknamed “Aco Three Pointer,” Aleksandar had the softest of touches and could drain any shot. What came naturally to Aleksandar, Dražen had to bust his ass for. That drive to win and hunger to be the best every single time made Aleksandar strategize about competing against his brother.
“I never played 1 on 1 against Dražen. You couldn’t win. Especially if he gets the first possession. That’s a bucket or a foul every time. That’s over before you start.”Aleksandar Petrović, Podcast Inkubator
Aco had to engage in some psychological warfare before even trying to beat Dražen on the court. The card to play was his talent. By his own words, Aleksandar can not touch a ball for a few years, take a few warmup shots, and he’s ready for a shootout. That would drive Dražen insane. Seeing someone with so much talent, not working on his skill as much as Dražen worked.
“Dražen was the type of player who needed to establish a rhythm, work on it every day to be ready. When we would have a three-point shooting contest, it would drive him mad. How? How?? How is it possible for me to beat him, the best jump shooter in basketball.”Aleksandar Petrović, Podcast Inkubator
After Dražen won two European Champions Cup titles with Cibona, he joined Real Madrid in 1988 – the favored team Cibona demolished in 1985. (Think an upside-down KD situation. This would be as if OKC won against the Warriors, and then KD joined Golden State). As faith would have it, the teams met in the Semifinals that year, but this time the Petrović brothers were on opposing sides.
Knowing they have no chance against Dražen and Real, Aleksandar made a deal with management. The players would get a substantial bonus if they just win in the first game of the series, played in Zagreb. With Cibona up by 1 and a second to go, a foul was called on Dražen. While he’s walking down to the free-throw line, Aco walked over to his brother.
“I told him, ‘Look, chief, you’re going to beat us either way, miss these.‘ He replied, ‘Sure.‘ Sure, sure. He drains both free throws, they win by one, and there goes our bonus. Of course, in the second game in Madrid, Real won by 25.”Aleksandar Petrović, Podcast Inkubator
Dražen opened up that return game with a fury. Almost single-handedly, Dražen built the 25 point lead in the first part of the game. But, a few of his teammates got on him after the game.
“I think it was the only moment in his life when Dražen took his foot off the gas. His teammates figured it out and went after him; why didn’t he go full throttle, as he did against them a few years later when playing for our team.”Aleksandar Petrović, Podcast Inkubator
The fact Dražen had only had one game in his career where he didn’t go for the jugular when up by 25 tells you everything you need to know about the man, the myth, the legend that was Dražen Petrović. It had to be a combination of the team that defined him in Cibona, his brother, and some of his favorite teammates for him to think, “OK, 25 is enough.”
Still didn’t let them get that bonus, though.