LeBron: Drazen Best Non-US Player Ever

21 February 2013

EUROPEANS IN THE NBA

Drazen Petrovic - New Jersey Nets
Drazen Petrovic joined the New Jersey Nets in 1991 (photo courtesy of NBA Europe/GettyImages)

Former Croatian and Yugoslavia legend Drazen Petrovic died tragically in a car accident in Germany almost 20 years ago, on 7 June 1993, four months before reaching the age of 29.

He was nicknamed Mozart early on in his career, not owned to an affection to classical music but rather because, just like Wolfgang Amadeus, the incredulous audience of this young prodigy judged him to be a genius.

To many European fans who had the privilege of watching him showcase his ability on a basketball court, or athletes that played alongside him, he was one of the best players of all time.

There are several also outside the continent who share that opinion, even if they only watched 'Mozart' play on video, after his death.

USA international Lebron James, last season's NBA finals MVP and champion with the Miami Heat, is one of them.

James was only nine years old when Petrovic passed away.

A journalist with Greek television station OTE TV asked the American super star on camera, during last weekend's NBA All Star game, who was the best 'international' (i.e. non-American) player in his opinion.

"Right now, Tony Parker (of France)," replied 'King' James.

The journalist's follow-up question was inevitable.

"International player of all time?" James echoed, giving himself some seconds to think about it.

"Dirk [Nowitzki]", he replied, before pausing for a split second and changing his answer.

"No, Drazen Petrovic."

Faced with the surprised expression of the journalist, who perhaps understandably was not expecting James to have heard of 'Mozart', let alone rate him so high, the 'King' went on to explain what it was he liked about Petrovic.

"The way he could shoot the ball," he said.

"He was very athletic, very athletic in his ability to shoot the ball."

Then he lifted his shoulders as if stating the obvious:"He was not afraid of the moment, he was not afraid of anything."

"He was awesome."

Drazen Petrovic Memorial - Sibenik
The Drazen Petrovic monument was unveiled in his native town Sibenik on 22 October 2011

Petrovic's enormous talent lifted him to a level of perfection that transcended sport.

There were times when the Sibenik-born guard dribbled or shot the orange ball that he was no longer a basketball player, he was almost an artist, and his play was poetry in motion.

But a basketball player is subject to even more subjective reviews than the work of a poet or an artist.

James himself is considered by some to be to American basketball today what Michael Jordan was at the time that Petrovic played in the NBA, where he made the jump in 1989, after collecting every possible title in Europe with Sibenka, Cibona Zagreb and Real Madrid.

His life was cut short, unlike that of Arvydas Sabonis, Toni Kukoc or Nikos Galis, to name but a few former European players whose names would enter any discussion on who is the best 'international' player, alongside of course modern stars like Pau Gasol, Parker and Nowitzki.

Basketball of course is a team sport, and maybe the very premise of such discussions is pointless.

If someone however was forced to pick just one name, like James was, the choice is ultimately down to personal criteria.

There can be little doubt though that, if this choice has to be done, the best player of all time outside the USA would be a European.

Even in the eyes of an American king.


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