In the annals of NBA history, few international players have left an indelible mark as enduring as the late Drazen Petrovic, and his legacy received a fitting tribute from none other than LeBron James, who once proclaimed Petrovic as the greatest international player ever.
Petrovic, the Croatian sensation, graced the NBA hardwood during the late 1980s and early 1990s, captivating audiences with his exceptional perimeter shooting and ability to create scoring opportunities. LeBron James, one of the NBA’s most iconic figures, held Drazen in the highest regard and hailed him as the finest European player of all time during the 2013 All-Star Weekend.
Drazen Petrovic’s unique distinction lay in his ability to blend explosive scoring prowess with an unfazed attitude on the court. LeBron James reminisced about Petrovic’s remarkable skills, saying, “His ability to shoot the ball, and he was very athletic. He wasn’t afraid of nothing. He wasn’t afraid of the moment, he wasn’t afraid of anything, and you know he was awesome.”
Petrovic’s claim to being the best European player ever finds validation in his revolutionary style of play. While three-point shooting is now a cornerstone of the modern NBA, it was Petrovic who dared to defy conventions by showcasing his three-point mastery. During his five-season NBA career, he boasted an incredible 43.7% three-point shooting accuracy on 2.6 attempts per game – a remarkable feat during an era when the league predominantly focused on scoring inside and from mid-range.
Petrovic was an offensive artist, a precursor to the likes of Stephen Curry and Damian Lillard, who have redefined the game with their long-range marksmanship. His knack for creating scoring opportunities off the dribble and launching shots from anywhere on the court set him apart from his contemporaries.
Reggie Miller, one of the NBA’s renowned sharpshooters, often found himself matched up against Petrovic. He once confessed, “To this day, I tell people he was my hardest cover, and I hated him. 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.”
Tragically, Drazen Petrovic’s life was cut short in a traffic accident in Germany in the summer of 1993. However, his enduring legacy lives on through the Brooklyn Nets, where his No. 3 jersey proudly hangs in the Barclays Center’s rafters.
The Mozart of Basketball, as Petrovic is affectionately known, symbolizes the unwavering spirit and dedication that transcend mere physical talents. His story stands as a testament to the extraordinary heights one can achieve through sheer determination and self-belief.
While Drazen Petrovic’s untimely demise robbed the NBA of one of its most promising talents, his legacy paved the way for the influx of European players who have since graced the league. The thriving European presence in the NBA, including MVPs like Nikola Jokic and Giannis Antetokounmpo, stands as a testament to Petrovic’s enduring influence.
As LeBron James once emphasized, “Drazen remains one of the biggest heartbreaking what-if stories in NBA history.” At the time of his passing at the tender age of 28, the New Jersey Nets, the team he led, were poised to challenge the Chicago Bulls and leave an indelible mark on the competitive landscape of the 1990s Eastern Conference. Unfortunately, fate had other plans. Yet, in the hearts of fans and the words of legends like LeBron James, Drazen Petrovic’s brilliance will forever shine brightly on the basketball stage.