Impossible! keened the headline in a Croatian newspaper, bearing word that one of that troubled land's favorite sons, 28-year-old New Jersey Net star Drazen Petrovic, had been killed in a ear accident on a rain-slicked German autobahn. But the news was crushingly true.
Petrovic played with an intensity that belied his slacked-jawed expression on the court. "You play correct, or we will light!" he once snapped at Utah Jazz forward Blue Edwards, who had fixed him with an elbow. In time Edwards and the rest of the NBA came to play Drazen correct.
Petrovic had a passionate belief in his abilities, a conviction that didn't waver even when he rode the bench for his first NBA club, the Portland Trail Blazers. In 1991 Portland obliged his request for a trade, sending him to New Jersey. Over his first off-season with the Nets he worked out zealously, adding 20 pounds to his bony frame and demonstrating a discipline many had doubted he had. Only once all summer did he take time off, to visit his brother Aleksandr in Florida—or so he told his agent and the Nets. In fact, he had sneaked off for three days to visit family and friends in war-torn Croatia. "I'm playing basketball," he said, "and my friends are getting killed."
At age 20 Petrovic scored 112 points in a game in the Yugoslav league, and at 22 he was recognized as the finest player in Europe. He was also a provocateur who spat at referees, taunted opposing fans and once emptied a bottle of mineral water over the head of a courtside official. That mix of talent and ferocity helped Petrovic excel not only in the NBA but also at the Barcelona Olympics, where he outshone celebrated teammate Toni Kukoc in leading Croatia to the silver medal, behind the Dream Team.
Petrovic believed that xenophobia kept him off the NBA All-Star Team the past two years, during which he helped lead New Jersey back to respectability. The slight was particularly galling last season when he averaged 22.3 points a game and was third in the NBA in three-point shooting. He would have become an unrestricted free agent on July 1, and he vowed to play next season in Europe, where he felt he would receive the respect he deserved. Despite his bitterness, the onetime Trail Blazer remained a trailblazer, a man whose career will be an inspiration to the next generation of European stars.
Stick and Duck
Referring to Riddick Bowe's native New York City borough and his slowness to agree to a heavyweight championship unification match against Lennox Lewis, rival trainer Lou Duva has come up with a nickname for the fighter. Duva calls him the Brooklyn Dodger.
NBA commissioner David Stern said last week that he had spoken to Michael Jordan about his gambling losses to golf-and-tell author Richard Esquinas (page 74) and had decided that no disciplinary action against Jordan was called for. Of course, Stern reached a similarly benign conclusion last year after Jordan ran up heavy gambling debts to convicted cocaine dealer James (Slim) Bouler. After NBA officials questioned Jordan about his dealings with Bouler, Stern said, "Michael has advised us that he understands the gravity of the situation."
But in Hang Time: Days and Dreams with Michael Jordan, a book by Chicago tribune columnist Bob Greene published last fall, Jordan treated the situation lightly. Of that '92 meeting, he said, "It should have taken 30 minutes. I knew exactly why we were spending so long. They wanted to be able to say that they called Michael Jordan in and talked about this stuff to him for two-and-a-half hours. Two-and-a-half hours sounds better than a hall hour. So I sat there with them."