- TOP PLAYERSOffensePABLO S. TORRE | August 20, 2012
- TAMPA BAY buccaneersENEMY lines WHAT A RIVAL COACH SAYSJune 28, 2012
- Faces in the CrowdJune 11, 2001
? Brazil's Oscar. Yeah, just Oscar to you. The 6'8" "Gunboat of Mobilgirgi" (his club team in Italy) shot 244 times in the tournament, knocking home-standing Spain out of contention for the final four with 30 points, nailing Cuba with 47 and lighting up the U.S. and Alabama's Derrick McKey for 43. Oscar—a grouch only when he's not firing away—concluded the tournament with a roughly astonishing shot-assist ratio of 35 to 1.
Meanwhile the Soviet Union- Yugoslavia semifinal was merely one of the classic athletic events of the century. Sabonis and Yugoslavia's Drazen Petrovic, each in his fashion, have been Europe's most dominant "amateur" players for several years. Defense aside, the 6'6", curly-haired, 22-year-old Petrovic is an NBA-caliber point guard: an exquisite shooter, passer and as the official Mundobasket program put it, "an unbetterable playmaker." In other words, a guy who doesn't need to posture, pout, play dirty or provoke the better part of Europe to be recognized. His spitting, obscene gesturing and general orneriness earned him the nickname el Perro Caliente (the Hotdog), and crowds booed and whistled him and his Yugo mates whenever they took the floor.
Petrovic's mortal enemy, Sabonis, has called him "stupid," "a clown" and threatened to "break his skull" whenever he gets a chance. That the Portland Trail Blazers drafted both these fellows in June is the joke of the year on the Continent.
Petrovic had little to joke about when Yugoslavia met the U.S. in their final round-robin game in Oviedo. Olson sicced Bogues, la Chispa Negra (the black spark, as the 5'3" Muggsy was lovingly described by the Spanish media), on Petrovic from the start, and the Yanks jumped out to a 19-2 lead. Sufficiently confused, Petrovic ( U.S. assistant coach Bobby Cremins gave him a new, printable nickname, "Petro") scored but 12 points and was shut out in the second half as the U.S. won 69-60.
Did the Yugos throw the game, or did it just look that way? Coach Kresimir Cosic did not even play his best big man, Ratko Radovanovic (no relation to Dustin Hoffman). He benched Petrovic at a key late moment and was roaring with laughter after the defeat. Nobody bothered to ask why. As Dario Colombo of Italy's Giganti del Basket magazine said, "What is use? The Yugoslavians are biggest liars in Europe."
Against the U.S.S.R. in the medal-round semifinal at Madrid, however, Yugoslavia was the truth. For exactly 39 minutes and 13 seconds. With Yugoslavia leading 81-72 and 2:20 left, Sabonis fouled Petrovic at midcourt. As an approving crowd chanted obscenities at the Yugoslav, Petrovic pulled back his arm as if to pound Sabonis with the ball. Then he shimmied, made buffoon faces, waved to the mob and incited more hostility. After a Soviet foul, plastic fans and soda cans came hurtling onto the court. An orange slammed into Petrovic's back. No matter. Yugoslavia's lead was 85-76 with :47 remaining.
The big red was finally dead, si?
Sabonis nailed a three-pointer from straight out—banked that sucker in. The U.S.S.R. stole the ball. Tikhonenko then hit another three-pointer from the left side—string (balalaika) music. The Soviets fouled, fouled again, fouled once more, and each time, the Yugos opted not to shoot free throws. Ultimately, the ball came to 7-foot Vladimir Divac, only 18, who was swarmed by the Soviets at midcourt and forced into a double dribble. Soviet ball...four seconds left...Valters on the left wing...bingoski! Another three-pointer, of course, and the game was tied, 85-85, at the buzzer. The overtime, in which Petrovic (27 points) missed on his chance for a one-and-one and then Sabonis (25 points) hit both ends of his, was marvelously anticlimactic. It ended at 91-90, U.S.S.R.
Later, Cremins hitched a ride back to the teams' hotel on the Yugoslavs' bus. "Petro wasn't there," he reported. "I think he has his own bus."