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The Best Basketball Documentary Since Hoop Dreams

By 10.13.10
Once Brothers

Once Brothers


Last night I was lucky enough to watch ESPN’s latest “30 for 30” doc, Once Brothers. Narrated by Vlade Divac, it tells the story of the Yugoslavian national team brotherhood, the ensuing war, and the strain it caused in the relationship between Divac (from Serbia) and Croatian teammates Toni Kukoc, Dino Radja and Drazen Petrovic. Between the game highlights, the story of how their team formed and challenged the world, and the history lesson of the war and what it did to so many people, this is not only one of the best “30 for 30” docs that ESPN has put out, but one of the best documentaries I have ever seen.

As someone who grew up watching Petrovic and Divac from their first days in the NBA, this was an incredible piece to watch. It was no accident that these two left their mark in the NBA, as the flash and charisma of both players made them fan favorites. It is what came between them that also made this story so sad. Reliving the tragic death of Petrovic in 1993 and learning that Divac has been carrying around the burden of never sitting down with Petrovic to settle their differences was emotional to watch, to say the least.

What was an absolute joy, however, were each and every clip of on-court action. The Yugoslavian team looked like a well-oiled machine, dominating every European squad they faced and later beating both USA and the Russians in 1990. Other clips included Petrovic lighting up Dennis Johnson in ’88, Divac’s immediate success with the Lakers, and Petrovic becoming an NBA All-Star in New Jersey. This was a prolific look at a time and a bond that was formed over basketball. And it’s something I don’t think many in the United States understood, as it was happening in Yugoslavia.

As a high school freshman, I’d watch the Knicks and Nets games with my dad. And every time it came down to the fourth quarter and the games were close, we would always check in with the Nets on Sports Channel over the Knicks on MSG, because the Nets games were always more exciting. Whether it was the speed of Kenny Anderson, the post play of Derrick Coleman or the dead-eye shooting of Petrovic, it seemed like the Nets were in a thriller every night. Of course, little did I know or understand how much that war was affecting Petrovic and Divac as I watched them play. Petrovic’s death was real tough for me to accept — I can’t begin to imagine what his family, friends, teammates and of course Divac felt and continue to feel to this day. Hats off to ESPN and NBA Entertainment for producing this.

What did you think of Once Brothers?

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