Utter the name “Dražen Petrovic” around me and I’ll shake my head at what could’ve been. Say it around Vlade Divac, however, and you’ll get a more remorseful response.
Divac’s Serbian and Petrovic’s Croatian lineages didn’t matter when the Yugoslav Wars unfurled. They were friends united by basketball and mutual respect. Then the good times changed forever over misunderstanding expertly chronicled in 30 for 30’s “Once Brothers.”
Painting millionaire athletes as drones in it for the money comes far too easy. I’m one to talk because I do it all the time. Yet Once Brothers shows how these blessed athletes are still people with aspirations and faults.
For instance, hearing secondhand accounts of Dražen’s work ethic ought to inspire anyone going through life’s motions. He had a knack for playing ball but he worked tirelessly to become one of the best shooters in the world: even when he couldn’t see the court in Portland.
Vlade, on the flip side, carries the weight of his unresolved relationship with Petrovic for life. We rightfully get on him for his annoying presence and flopping throughout his career. The critiques on his play become miniscule when he’s still coping with losing one of his best friend on bad terms.
Meanwhile players Vlade grew to appreciate as brothers cut off ties: including Croatian players Toni Kukoc and Dino Radja. Remember, their ties strained as they sowed seeds for the NBA’s European invasion. These guys helped change the shape of the league for good and couldn’t share their success as it happened.
There’s plenty more themes brewing in Once Brothers so I won’t go on much longer. Just let it run and be an audience to all the unanswered questions the film poses. Nets fans continue to feel Petrovic’s loss on a basketball level considering yesterday marked the 20th anniversary of his death. Those much closer to him, Vlade especially, know the pain delves much deeper than hoops.