Impossible! keened the headline in a Croatian newspaper, bearing word that one of that troubled land's favorite sons, 28-year-old New Jersey Net star Drazen Petrovic, had been killed in a ear accident on a rain-slicked German autobahn. But the news was crushingly true.
Petrovic played with an intensity that belied his slacked-jawed expression on the court. "You play correct, or we will light!" he once snapped at Utah Jazz forward Blue Edwards, who had fixed him with an elbow. In time Edwards and the rest of the NBA came to play Drazen correct.
Petrovic had a passionate belief in his abilities, a conviction that didn't waver even when he rode the bench for his first NBA club, the Portland Trail Blazers. In 1991 Portland obliged his request for a trade, sending him to New Jersey. Over his first off-season with the Nets he worked out zealously, adding 20 pounds to his bony frame and demonstrating a discipline many had doubted he had. Only once all summer did he take time off, to visit his brother Aleksandr in Florida—or so he told his agent and the Nets. In fact, he had sneaked off for three days to visit family and friends in war-torn Croatia. "I'm playing basketball," he said, "and my friends are getting killed."
At age 20 Petrovic scored 112 points in a game in the Yugoslav league, and at 22 he was recognized as the finest player in Europe. He was also a provocateur who spat at referees, taunted opposing fans and once emptied a bottle of mineral water over the head of a courtside official. That mix of talent and ferocity helped Petrovic excel not only in the NBA but also at the Barcelona Olympics, where he outshone celebrated teammate Toni Kukoc in leading Croatia to the silver medal, behind the Dream Team.
Petrovic believed that xenophobia kept him off the NBA All-Star Team the past two years, during which he helped lead New Jersey back to respectability. The slight was particularly galling last season when he averaged 22.3 points a game and was third in the NBA in three-point shooting. He would have become an unrestricted free agent on July 1, and he vowed to play next season in Europe, where he felt he would receive the respect he deserved. Despite his bitterness, the onetime Trail Blazer remained a trailblazer, a man whose career will be an inspiration to the next generation of European stars.
Stick and Duck
Referring to Riddick Bowe's native New York City borough and his slowness to agree to a heavyweight championship unification match against Lennox Lewis, rival trainer Lou Duva has come up with a nickname for the fighter. Duva calls him the Brooklyn Dodger.
NBA commissioner David Stern said last week that he had spoken to Michael Jordan about his gambling losses to golf-and-tell author Richard Esquinas (page 74) and had decided that no disciplinary action against Jordan was called for. Of course, Stern reached a similarly benign conclusion last year after Jordan ran up heavy gambling debts to convicted cocaine dealer James (Slim) Bouler. After NBA officials questioned Jordan about his dealings with Bouler, Stern said, "Michael has advised us that he understands the gravity of the situation."
But in Hang Time: Days and Dreams with Michael Jordan, a book by Chicago tribune columnist Bob Greene published last fall, Jordan treated the situation lightly. Of that '92 meeting, he said, "It should have taken 30 minutes. I knew exactly why we were spending so long. They wanted to be able to say that they called Michael Jordan in and talked about this stuff to him for two-and-a-half hours. Two-and-a-half hours sounds better than a hall hour. So I sat there with them."
According to the Greene book, Jordan also said of that meeting, "Inside mc I'm thinking, 'You guys, there's no need for this. We all know what happened. I've learned from this. I know what you really want to know. You want to know if there are any other checks out there that are going to start popping up. No, there are no more checks out there. You won't be seeing this again.' "
That meeting occurred six months after Jordan incurred his losses to Esquinas. In recent weeks Esquinas, by his account, has received two checks from Jordan's representatives totaling $200,000 as partial payment for those debts.
Maybe you heard about the slick one that New York Knick coach Pat Riley pulled. During the 1988-89 season, when the team he was then coaching, the Los Angeles Lakers, was seeking a third straight NBA title, Riley had the foresight to trademark the term Three-Peat. The Lakers didn't succeed, but Riley now figures to clean up if Jordan's Bulls make it three in a row. In that case, entrepreneurs who want to market Three-Peat T-shirts, hats or other merchandise commemorating the Bulls' feat will have to pay royalties to Riley. Otherwise Riley could sic the law, or maybe even John Stacks, on them.
To be sure, the NBA isn't completely thrilled that one of its coaches stands to profit from a rival's triumph. Nobody suggests that Riley pulled any punches when the Knicks lost to the Bulls in the Eastern Conference finals. But one NBA insider says that the league may draft a policy that would bar coaches and other club officials from future business dealings that could create the appearance of a conflict.
The Backup's Backup
On his phone-in radio show. Lunch with Lack, Florida Marlin manager Rene Lachemann was asked by a caller when he planned to play backup catcher Mitch Lyden, who as of Sunday had yet to appear in his first big league game. "I have a personal reason for wanting to know." the caller said. "I'm his father-in-law."
Once an anti-owners guy, always an anti-owners guy—that's one way to make sense of the silly attack that U.S. Representative Jim Bunning (R., Ky.) leveled at baseball last week. Acting commissioner Bud Selig had offered each of the 535 members of Congress the chance to buy—that's right, buy—two tickets to the July 13 All-Star Game, in Baltimore, and Bunning, a conservative who's ordinarily pro-business, accused the owners of trying to bribe—that's right, bribe—the pols not to scrap the game's antitrust exemption.
The charge, which Bunning made in a letter to his Capitol Hill colleagues headed BRIBE ALERT, indicates that he still distrusts the owners, just as he did while winning 224 games as a big league pitcher from 1955 to '71. Bunning was a players' union firebrand who was instrumental in setting up the players' pension fund and hiring Marvin Miller as president of the increasingly militant union. But the suggestion that baseball can curry favor with members of Congress by offering to sell them tickets—Selig called the offer a "courtesy"—is laughable in light of the large sums of money that political action committees lavish on the legislators in hopes of influencing policy. Indeed, Bunning himself received $439,491 in PAC contributions last year, which ranks him in the top 10% of House members.
The Agony of Victory
In a rampage similar to those that occurred after the Detroit Tigers won the World Series in 1984 and the Chicago Bulls won their first NBA title in '91, Montreal's central business district exploded last week minutes after the Canadians hoisted the Stanley Cup for the 24th time. For more than two hours crowds that had assembled outside the Forum, ostensibly to celebrate the Habs' victory over the Los Angeles Kings, overturned cars, set fires, smashed windows and heaved rocks and bottles at police. More than 100 people were arrested, and some 50 cops were injured before order was restored. Damage estimates reached $10 million.
With more than one million foreign fans expected to storm U.S. shores next year for the World Cup, authorities in the nine cities where games will be played are worried about possible violence by Europe's notorious soccer hooligans. But as the rash of sports riots in North America sadly suggests, Europe doesn't have a monopoly on thugs.
THE GAZETTE, MONTREAL
JOHN W. MCDONOUGH
The hairy creature pictured here is former Arizona State gymnast Bob Woolf, who in his guise as the Phoenix Suns' mascot, the Gorilla, entertained the home crowd at Games 1 and 2 of the NBA Finals last week by rappelling from the rafters and performing trampoline-powered dunks. As it happens, four other former Sun Devil gymnasts are aping Woolf by also cavorting as highly acrobatic NBA mascots. After Woolf got the Gorilla gig five years ago, his ex-roommate Mike Zerrillo was hired as yr the Charlotte Hornets' Hugo. Soon Paul Linne became the Indiana Pacers' Boomer. Linne, in turn, put in a good word for Jerry Burrell and John Sweeney, now the Houston Rockets' Booster and Seattle Sonics' Squatch, respectively. Says the pioneering Woolf, "My friends say, 'The Gorilla is getting all the credit, and you're still a nobody.' But I don't mind. In my job every day is Halloween."
They Wrote It
•Michael Ventre, in the Los Angeles Daily News: "Darryl Strawberry now predicts he's going to the Hall of Fame. The Dodgers probably wish he'd go now so they can replace him with somebody who can hit and field."
They Said It
•Wayne Gretzky, Los Angeles King star, on the satisfaction he derived from making the Stanley Cup finals: "You know you've come a long way when you look at the out-of-town scoreboard and there are no scores."
•Charles Barkley, Phoenix Sun star, confiding that he mostly hangs out with people he grew up with: "I have very few friends I have met since I became Charles Barkley."