On June 7, exactly 23 years ago, probably the best European basketball player of all times Dražen Petrović was killed in a car accident near Ingolstadt, on the highway Frankfurt – Munich.
Dražen was born on 22nd of October 1964 and he debuted for Šibenka at the age of 15. He soon became the main player in his team. When he was 18 years old, he won the title of the champion of Yugoslavia, a title which was taken away soon because the Basketball Federation of Yugoslavia cancelled the match against Bosna on April 9, 1983, the match which Šibenka won with the result of 83:82.
Dražen always mentioned Dragan Kićanović, another European basketball legend, as his idol, and initially he refused to go to Cibona because “he did not want to kick his brother Aleksandar out of the game” and he preferred going to Partizan to play with the legendary Kićo. However, eventually he ended up in Zagreb.
Petrović won two European champion titles with Cibona and Real was his favorite customer. In the victory in the finals of the Cup of European Champions in 1985, when Cibona won with 87:78, Dražen scored the least points to the Kings – 36 points. In other matches against the team from Madrid, he regularly exceeded 40 points.
Cibona promised a spectacle to the spectators who come to watch the match against Olimpija in the first round of the Yugoslav league, and Dražen took care of that. The Mozart broke the previous record in the number of scored points set by Radivoj Korać by 38 points! In the victory of Cibona with 158:77, Petrović scored unbelievable 112 points, which is a record that will probably never be broken at the territory of the former Yugoslavia.
After he destroyed the chances of Real for winning the European champion title in 1986 as well, officials of the Spanish giant opted for the only move that they had left – to fork out and bring the best European player at the moment. They waited for Petrović’s “yes” until 1988, and Dražen played only one season in Madrid.
After the season in Spain, Dražen was ready for NBA. Portland had already chosen him in 1986, and at the age of 26 Dražen was full of self-confidence and he expected the same domination in NBA as he had in Europe. He was under contract with Real for three more years, but the Blazers paid the then one and a half million dollars to the team from Madrid, which was an enormous amount. For comparison, Jordan’s wage that season amounted to two million dollars!
Although he went to the NBA very optimistic, Dražen played only ten minutes on average, which was not satisfying for him. In the end, after only 18 matches in his second season he talked with the coach Rick Adelman and told him to give him a chance to play, or he will leave. The answer is obvious. “I have never been on the bench in my career, and I will not be on the bench in Portland either, even if they were champions. I want to play, and if I have to go to the weakest team to do it, I am leaving right now,” Dražen said and left to New Jersey.
The Mozart played his last match in Wroclaw on June 6, 1993, in qualifications for the EURO 1993 against the team of Slovenia. His father Jole told him he should not play that qualifying tournament because he had an injury of the ankle joint, but the captain of Croatia did not want to let his teammates play without him. On the fatal June 7, he headed home with his team, in the war-affected Croatia.
“We were going to the Frankfurt airport and Dražen suddenly stopped and said: ‘See you at the training tomorrow, I have a ride to Zagreb’. I gave him the plane ticket and told him to come with us if he changes his mind. We got on the plane and waited for him for 40 minutes. Then his brother Aleksandar came and told us that Dražen left,” said Mirko Novosel.
The rest of the team and the delegation took off in that plane, and Dražen headed towards Munich with his girlfriend Klara and her friend Hilal Edebal. Around 5:20 pm, on the highway near Ingolstadt the red Golf which Klara drove crashed into a truck which came out of the opposite lane. Dražen was sleeping on the passenger seat and was the only one who passed away due to consequences of the terrifying collision.
(Source: klix.ba/photo: realmadridbalkan.org)