The history of the Portland Trail Blazers has been filled with missed opportunities. Among the most regrettable was the opportunity to experience the burgeoning career of Drazen Petrovic, a young Croatian superstar whose life was cut short by a tragic automobile accident in June of 1993. The Blazers drafted Petrovic in 1986. He would not join the team until 1989, when he became stuck in the rotation behind guards Clyde Drexler, Terry Porter, and later, Danny Ainge. In January of 1991 Portland traded Petrovic to the New Jersey Nets in a three-way deal that netted them veteran Walter Davis. Davis would appear in 32 games for the Blazers, averaging 6.1 points. Petrovic would average over 20ppg for the Nets, earning 3rd Team All-NBA honors the season before his death.
Today Zach Lowe of ESPN recounted the legacy of Petrovic in an extensive column. The piece chronicles Petrovic’s famed work ethic, breaking ground for European guards, and a reverence for his story which is still being passed down among international players. Among the other anecdotes, Lowe gives quotes from former Trail Blazers Porter and Ainge on Petro’s Portland days.
On the issue that kept him off the floor:
Portland’s coaches didn’t trust Petrovic’s defense, and they weren’t wrong. Petrovic was stubborn, and liked to say he was such a good shooter he didn’t need to play defense. Porter and [Suns scout Emilio] Kokoskov playfully argued about that when they were both on Detroit’s coaching staff in the mid-2000s.
”Terry used to say, ‘We had to tell that [expletive] to start playing defense!’” Kokoskov chuckles. “I told Terry he didn’t have to play defense. His offense was the best defense!”
On Petrovic’s shot:
Ainge and Petrovic became fast friends after Sacramento traded Ainge to Portland in 1990, and they would hold shooting contests after practice. The loser bought lunch. They would launch 50 3-pointers each, all on the move, mimicking the motion of flying off picks for catch-and-shoot triples. “I might win three out of 12 times,” Ainge says. “If I didn’t make 44 or 45 out of 50, I’d have no chance.”
On the deal with the Nets:
Ainge was, and remains, aghast at the trade. “We all knew Drazen was a great player,” he says.
Lowe also has quotes from Ainge on the work Petrovic put in, even while riding the bench in Portland, Petrovic’s insistence that he came to the NBA to play, and tons of material from his pre-NBA career and New Jersey. It’s absolutely worth a read, maybe two.