Skip to main content

In the late 1980s and early 1990s, Drazen Petrovic stood out as a truly unique player in the league. He was known for his explosive scoring ability, primarily driven by his exceptional proficiency in perimeter shooting. Petro was the star player for the Portland Trail Blazers and the then-New Jersey Nets.

With the Nets, he was scoring north of 20 points per game, which made him one of the best scoring guards in the league. This helped him earn the respect of multiple NBA players across the league and the kids who were growing up at the time.

One of those kids was LeBron James, who once considered Drazen the best European player of all time.

“All-Time? Best international player of all time? Dirk (Nowitzki) or Petrovic. His ability to shoot the ball and he was very athletic. He wasn't afraid of nothing,” LeBron said during 2013’s All-Star Weekend. “He wasn't afraid of the moment, he wasn't afraid of anything, and you know he was awesome.”

Why Drazen is a candidate for the best European player ever

While players like Reggie Miller and Mark Price were top-tier shooters in their era, they often operated as spot-up shooters, depending on their teammates to create opportunities. Petrovic, on the other hand, excelled in creating his scoring opportunities. He could break down his opponent using his dribbling and pull up from anywhere on the court.

During his five-season run in the NBA, he averaged 43.7% from beyond the arc on 2.6 attempts per game. That was unheard of during that time because it was still a league focused on scoring in the paint or the mid-range.

Drazen was a player ahead of his time; today, we witness players like Stephen Curry and Damian Lillard taking up to 10 three-point attempts per game, revolutionizing the game, and there is no doubt the late Croatian would have thrived in today's game.

In addition to his offensive skill set, Drazen was also an "annoying" player to play against. Reggie Miller, who regularly matched up against Drazen, did not like playing against the Croatian guard.

“To this day, I tell people he was my hardest cover, and I hated him,” Reggie said on HuffPost Live. “Drove me absolutely mad with his antics, because he was so good at scoring the basketball right in my face and talking junk right in my ear.”

Drazen’s legacy lives on

Petrovic met a tragic end in the summer of 1993, succumbing to a traffic accident in Germany. His memory endures powerfully in the Brooklyn Nets' legacy, as his No. 3 jersey proudly hangs in the rafters of the Barclays Center.

The Croatian maestro was a genuine trailblazer in the world of basketball. Today, with over 100 European players, including MVPs like Nikola Jokic and Giannis Antetokounmpo, it's evident that Petrovic's legacy paved the way for the thriving European presence in the league.

Drazen stands as a symbol for hard-working athletes, showcasing that physical gifts don't solely determine success. Through sheer determination and hard work, he ascended to become one of the league's best, leaving an indelible mark despite coming over from the other side of "The Pond." 

“Because in every job, including in basketball, there are moments when things don't go well, you need to get out of that situation as soon as possible,” Drazen once said. “Normally, with as much training as possible, but the most important thing is that the player has a lot of self-confidence and believes in himself.”

Known as the Mozart of Basketball, Drazen remains one of the biggest heartbreaking what-if stories in NBA history. At the time of his untimely passing at the age of 28, the Nets were a promising team on the upswing, poised to challenge the Chicago Bulls in the competitive landscape of the 1990s Eastern Conference. Unfortunately, the fate had other plans.