Knicks rookie Kristaps Porzingis is attempting to stop a trend. The Latvian-born power forward was drafted by the Knicks earlier this year, and is attempting to break the streak of poor European talent drafted in the lottery. The recent influx of European players has flooded the market with below-average talent, creating a bad reputation for Europeans in their entirety. It is easy to forget how good these players truly were in Europe because they do not perform well here, but there was one man who broke the mold; one who was so good that he defied all traditional perceptions of European basketball players and was a vanguard for the European invasion. That player was Drazen Petrovic.
The Croatian-born shooting guard was an amazing talent for his Spanish and Yugoslavian club teams, posting an 112-point performance, and was a major reason for Yugoslavia winning two Olympic medals. Europe knew that he was an incredible talent, but it would not mean anything until he proved himself in the best basketball league in the world, the NBA.
Petrovic was drafted by the Portland Trailblazers in 1986, but didn’t come to America until 1989. He struggled in an already loaded backcourt before he even touched down in the States. Hall of Famer Clyde Drexler and All-Star Terry Porter made it difficult for Petrovic to wiggle into the lineup. He saw very limited playing time and was eventually dealt to the New Jersey Nets in a three team deal.
With his career hanging in the balance, Petrovic knew that his tenure with the Nets was extremely important, and he had to make the most of it. In the ’91-’92 season, his first full season with the Nets, Petrovic averaged over 20 points a game, and was eventually named team MVP. He had become a staple in their offense, but was also revered for his hardnosed, gritty defense. Petro’s best game, and defining moment, came against the Michael Jordan-led Bulls. While most players would back down to the legend, Basketball’s Amadeus was ready to show him up. He hit three’s from all over the court, and went right at MJ. When it was all said and done, Petro had gotten 26 points and league wide respect.
Petrovic elevated his game again the next season, averaging over 22 points a game, and shooting an out-of-this-world 45 percent from behind the arc. He made All-NBA Third team, but was snubbed from the All-Star game. He was a Top 13 scorer in the league, but was the only one to not make an All-Star team.
The 1992-93 season would be the last time Petro would touch the court. He was killed in a tragic car accident on the german Autobahn. He was 28-years-old.
Petro’s impact on the game will never be forgotten. He was the first great European player, and opened the door for people such as Dirk Nowitzki and Porzingis. His number three hangs high above the Barclays Center floor and a token of appreciation for what he did for not only the Nets, but for the game of basketball.
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