An era is finished. Peja Stojakovic, long one of the NBA’s greatest outside shooters, is calling it quits. The former All-Star in Sacramento is retiring on top after a championship last season with Dallas because of a string of back and neck problems. While I didn’t exactly rejoice in the Mavs finally getting over the hump, it was great to see a few of their more noteworthy vets get a ring. And yet, no one seems to be talking about Peja.
Ever since he left Sacramento, Stojakovic had been dying a slow death. By 2010, I barely even remembered he was in the league. But the basketball gods came down and blessed him one more time. Finishing up your career in style, winning a championship and twice scoring over 20 in playoffs games is the perfect way to go out.
After years of trouble against the Lakers in the playoffs – in 2001, he was hounded all over the court by Rick Fox and in 2002, he struggled coming back from an injury and then airballed one of the biggest shots of the game late in Game 7 – Peja is probably still smiling after what Dallas did to L.A. last season.
“When you start competing against your body more than you’re preparing for the actual game,” Stojakovic said to ESPN Dallas, “it’s a wakeup call.”
He did play 20 years of professional ball (including internationally). With all of his injuries, there was simply no way he could even hope to recollect his 2003-04 season when he averaged a career-high 24.2 points a night, nearly won the MVP, would’ve won an NBA title if Chris Webber didn’t shred his knee and did it all on straight-up obscene shooting percentages (48/43/93 from the field/three/free-throw line).
My favorite story comes from my college roommate. He was the only Mike Bibby fan I ever knew, and loved the Kings with a passion. He read everything on them, had every magazine they ever appeared in, every newspaper clipping. Peja’s goofy mug, since he happened to be in a lot of the same photos as Bibby, was all over his wall. And the shooting stories about Peja would come jumping off his tongue. Stojakovic could go into a gym and, with no effort at all, stand 25 feet from the hoop and just rain shots for minutes at a time. 20, 30, 40 in a row. The dude was literally a machine.
There may be shooters that’ll come around like Peja (he leaves ranking fourth all-time with 1,760 careers treys). But no one will ever have THAT jump shot again. Truly unique. Y’all know what I’m talking about.
What will you remember about Peja?
Follow Sean on Twitter at @SEANesweeney.
Follow Dime on Twitter at @DimeMag.
Become a fan of Dime Magazine on Facebook HERE.