They Were Like Brothers

Friendship is one of the most important things in life for a person. Sometimes you are so close to someone that you call them my brother. This is how close they were in Petrovic and Divac, and once brothers, but the dirty face of war and politics entered between them.

Petrovic was born on 22 October 1964 in Sibenik, Croatia, which was then Yugoslavian territory. Vlade Divac was born in Prijepolje, Serbia, also located within the borders of Yugoslavia. While Petrovic dominated European basketball, he decided to participate in the Nba drafts in 1986. The Croatian basketball player was picked by the 60th place Portland Trail Blazers, but did not rush to go to the other continent. The star player would wait until 1989 to go to Nba. On the other hand, Divac, as soon as it was drafted by the Los Angeles Lakers in 1989, made its way directly to the Nba. Although Petrovic’s Portland career did not go the way he wanted, Divac took the time he wanted as soon as he arrived in the league and he gave the right to it. After Petrovic was traded to the New Jersey Nets in 1991, his extraordinary performance caused Nba teams to change their conservative attitude towards European players. These two players represented their country very successfully in Nba and were very close friends.

The foundations of this friendship were laid at the 1988 Summer Olympics. At that Olympics, Yugoslavia had a very important youth core like Vlade Divac, Toni Kukoc and Zarko Pasalj. The leader of the team was of course Drazen Petrovic, the idol of these young players who had been watching with envy for years. Knowing that Divac is a rather undisciplined player, national team coach Dusan İvkovic made Petrovic and Divac roommates. An incredible atmosphere of friendship spread throughout the team. However, Yugoslavia had to make do with the silver medal, losing to the experienced Soviet Union team that overthrew Abd in the semi-finals in the final. However, Yugoslavia showed the basketball public that they could become a champion team in the future.

The 1989 European Championship was to be held in the city of Zagreb. This was a golden opportunity for Yugoslavia to become the European champion. In addition to his talents, the family atmosphere formed in the team at the 1988 Seoul Olympics was the most important advantage of the team. Yugoslavia had a great performance from the beginning to the end of the tournament, defeating Greece 98-77, which overthrew the Soviet Union in the semifinals, became the European Champion. With this tournament, Petrovic-Divac friendship was also strengthened. Both players decided to go to Nba after the tournament. However, the world was beginning to change. There was a great chaos in Europe. Especially in Europe, the collapse of Communism changed all the balances. There was no longer the Berlin Wall. Yugoslavia was a multinational state and they would get their share of this chaos. The peoples of Yugoslavia were now openly shouting that they wanted independence. This uprising, which started with the Slovenian people, was spreading slowly. After Slovenia, Croatia and Bosnia, the ethnic conflict between the peoples had spread to the whole of Yugoslavia and it had now spawned a civil war. This situation did not make much sense for basketball players at first. They had not yet come to the seriousness of the incident. Until the “Flag” crisis in 1990 …

As we mentioned at the beginning of the article, Petrovic could not find what he expected from his career in Portland and he was going through very difficult times. But what kept him up these days was Vlade Divac, whom he called my brother and his roommate from the national team. This friendship that started in the national team was getting stronger day by day. Divac was constantly trying to give morale to his friend, who was going through difficult times, by phone. Hours of phone calls kept Petrovic back to his senses. In the summer of 1990, the World Basketball Championship was held in Argentina. Yugoslavia was among the favorites of the tournament. In Petrovic, he would get the times and leadership he wanted again on the field after a long time. However, the tension in Yugoslavia was gradually reflecting on the national team. Despite all this, the players managed to focus on basketball and got their names written in the semi-finals. In the semifinals, the opponent was the USA. Yugoslavia passed the American obstacle without much difficulty and got its name written in the finals. The final wouldn’t just be a final for them. It would also be the rematch of the 1988 Olympics because the rival was the Soviet Union. Before the final, the atmosphere in the hall was very tense. There were Croatian flags all around. The players were aware that some protests might occur during the match. In the shadow of all this, Yugoslavia managed to get a rematch from the Soviets with a score of 92-75. The gold medal went to Yugoslavia. The event that will end Petrovic and Divac’s friendship started at this point. After the match was over, as the players were on the podium, a demonstrator holding a Croatian flag from the stands dived into the field and ran towards the players. At that time, Divac took the flag in the demonstrator’s hand and threw it to the ground. Divac didn’t think this flag thing would get too big. Everything was normal for him. But on the Petrovic front, the situation was very different. The Croatian player was very upset with this situation. The friendship between these two players was over. But Divac did not know that Petrovic was angry with him for this situation. Although he wanted to see his friend several times, Petrovic did not want this. The link between Divac and Petrovic was now completely broken. The war had ended the friendship of these two.

On June 7, 1993, Drazen Petrovic died in a tragic traffic accident. Hundreds of thousands of people attended the funeral, and they carried him on the shoulders and sent him off on his last journey. However, Divac was very upset but could not even come to his funeral due to the reactions. Even though Divac is still a disliked person in Croatia, years later he was able to visit Petrovic’s grave through the Espn documentary “Once Brothers” and he was longing for Petrovic, which he called my brother. But fate had already separated them …

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