Just got done watching a truly remarkable documentary—”Once Brothers,” about the relationship between Vlade Divac and Drazen Petrovic. Trust me—DVR it. Tape it. Have a friend tape it. Remarkable.
At one point, I actually caught myself smiling. It was during highlights of Drazen’s time with the Nets in the early 90s. Back then I was an enormous New Jersey fan, when they featured the Big Three of Kenny Anderson, Derrick Coleman and Petrovic. They were never fantastic, but they were on the verge of being fantastic. Just needed a decent big man and some more help on the bench.
Then, while interning at The Tennessean during the summer of 1993, I read this:
NBA’s Drazen Petrovic of Croatia Killed in Auto Accident
BYLINE: By NESHA STARCEVIC, AP Sports Writer
SECTION: International News
LENGTH: 267 words
DATELINE: FRANKFURT, Germany
Drazen Petrovic, a Croatian who became a star in American professional basketball, died in a car crash in southeastern Germany. He was 28.
Petrovic was killed about 5:20 p.m. Monday 15 miles north of Ingolstadt, on the highway going to Munich, police said. He was traveling in a Volkswagen Golf with two women and was sitting in the front passenger seat.
The 23-year-old driver of the Golf apparently had to brake suddenly in heavy rain and lost control, hitting the rail separating lanes headed in the opposite direction and slamming into a trailer truck.
The driver and 53-year-old female passenger suffered serious injuries.
Petrovic was a high-scoring guard for the New Jersey Nets of the National Basketball Association.
A member of Croatia’s silver-medal winning team in the Barcelona Olympics, he had just finished leading his country to a victory in a tournament in Wroclaw, Poland, that put the team in the European championships in Germany.
Petrovic is the fifth prominent athlete in American sports to die in accidents this year. Tim Crews and Steve Olin of baseball’s Cleveland Indians were killed in a boating accident in March. Race car driver Alan Kulwicki died in a plane crash in April, and Iowa basketball star Chris Street was killed in a car accident in January.
In Zagreb, Croatia, Petrovic’s friends gathered at his coffee bar, Amadeus, after the death was reported early this morning.
“This is the worst shock in my life,” said Neven Spahija, coach of Cibona Zagreb, Petrovic’s former team. “We are all here now, watching each other, not believing, weeping.”
All these years later, it’s still heartbreaking. The guy was on course to becoming an absolute NBA stud. He could shoot from anywhere. He passed like Magic. He played, well, no defense, but it would surely come.