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Drazen Petrovic: 20 years ago today

Julius Laid Back - Creative Commons

Sometime in the next few weeks, the Nets will visit with Bojan Bogdanovic, the latest Croatian hoops star. No doubt, one side or both in the conversation will mention the importance of Drazen Petrovic to the Nets legacy ... and the tragedy that kept from reaching his potential in New Jersey and life.

It was 20 years ago Friday that word came: Petrovic, the All-NBA star and future Hall of Famer, had been killed on a German autobahn in a collision with a truck. He was on his way to re-uniting with the Croatian national team. His girlfriend, Kiara Szalantzy, was driving.

Steve Popper and John Brennan, both of the Record, recounts that day and the sad days after, including the reaction of Nets GM Willis Reed.

"When I first got the call I didn’t believe it," said Reed. "I knew he was playing with the Croatian National team and I just couldn’t believe it. "Then I started getting details of what happened. It really tugs at my heart. It’s one of those things that you went though and you’ll never get over. I won’t. I know I won’t."

It was the franchise turning point. After Petrovic died, the Nets had one more winning season, then the slow spiral down, with only the blip of the 1997-98 season to obscure the ugliness until the arrival of Jason Kidd.

No one is saying Bogdanovic will be anything like Petrovic. No one was like Petrovic. It wasn't just the shot or his toughness, but his outsized personality that created the legend. Hopefully, though, Bogdanovic's play will serve as an echo or reminder of his predecessor's greatness in a Nets uniform. R.I.P. Drazen

Here's the scene last night at the Drazen Petrovic Memorial in Zagreb, courtesy of Steve Popper.