That June 7, a day of those that are counted on the fingers of one hand in which nobody forgets where he was, what he was doing when the drama happened. The untimely death of a genius. On that German motorway, dog night, in a red Golf shattered against a truck that had skipped the median, he died 30 years ago, asleep in the passenger seat, Drazen Petrovic, an unclassifiable player. "A basketball fan", "an obsessive", "a complex figure"... Descriptions of those who had the privilege of being close to the unfinished myth that converge in the unanimous: "There will never be anyone like it."

The destination is a plane to Zagreb in which not to get on with the rest of the teammates, a few days off after a Pre-European in Wroclaw (Poland), a trip from Frankfurt to Munich with his girlfriend, Klara Szalantzy, and a friend, the Turkish player Hilal Edebal. And fatality at age 28. "Perasovic and I had missed the last flight to Split and had to sleep in a hotel. The phone rang at dawn. They wake us up with the news. You never forget that moment. Sitting on the bed Velimir and I, staring into the void. You can't believe a colleague just died."

The young Zan Tabak had said goodbye, like the rest of the components of the Croatian national team, to Petrovic. See you soon, because in a few weeks they would face the first Eurobasket in the history of the country, which had become independent in 1991 and the previous summer had achieved silver at the Barcelona Games. There, in Germany, Lolo Sainz, then Spanish coach, hoped "eagerly" to reunite with his pupil, that "murderer" who, when he was a rival, "punched us, to put it mildly", with the Cibona (in five matches against Real Madrid, 41 points on average). But when he had him at his command in white, in that unforgettable 88/89 season, he discovered "a great professional". "People received it with resentment, but it gave me a wonderful feeling from the beginning. He had basketball in his blood, he was a born winner," recalls the former coach.

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Nor does José Luis Llorente keep any negative memory of the genius of Sibenik, despite the fact that he was one of those who had to dance with the scorn, the bicycles and the provocations of that precocious Petrovic who converted, along with his brother Aza, every eighties battle against Madrid into a nightmare. "He was very cordial, friendly, easy to deal with, he almost never got angry," says the former white base of his later coexistence.

Because all Drazen cared about was always winning and the rabid fist raised was his imperishable stamp. Since he debuted in Sibenka, which at the age of 17 he led to the final of the Korac – "there is a kid in Sibenik who will be better than Kicanovic, Dapilagic and me. He is very ambitious and does implausible things. His name is Drazen Petrovic, remember this name," Moka Slavnic warned a group of journalists in 1979, until his last season with the Nets, where, at last, he had also managed to bewitch that NBA that received him with so little affection and prominence in Portland. "Reggie Miller talked to me a lot about him in Indiana, they had had a lot of piques, but I respected him," Tabak recalls. They said that the forward, another demon of provocation, praised that shameless European saying that he could insult him in four languages. He also had them with John Starks, who one day headbutted him: "He's a pimp with a foreign accent," the Knicks star insulted him.

Tabak, a former center for Madrid, the Rockets and the Pacers, among others, remembers Drazen's mark on the best league in the world in the years after his death. He describes his teammate, who was a pioneer in making the jump to the NBA as a star in Europe, as "a basketball fan, an incredible worker, an example for all young people of how to progress. There's his quality and talent, but I've seen very few with that dedication to work."

The players of the Croatian national team, with Petrovic's coffin.

Legend has it that Petrovic, who got on a plane in the summer of 1988 to sign for Barça and got off with a Real Madrid scarf (Aíto García Reneses rejected his signing, because of his selfishness on the pitch), asked for the keys to the old pavilion of the Ciudad Deportiva to go and pitch in his spare time. He did so in his hometown, on the shores of the Adriatic, with his brother Alexandar when he was a teenager. In his only but intense season in the capital of Spain he lived in an apartment on Alfredo Marquerie Street, in the neighborhood of Mirasierra, with Renata, his girlfriend at the time and with the logistical help of Miroslav Vorgid, a Balkan physical trainer of the club who made him a translator. "I just had to cross the street," admits Lolo Sainz, who remembers the "gypsies" that the Croatian recruited for "100 pesetas" so that, after each training they bounced him in their routines with that shot that he had to improve, "like an obsession. He always wanted more and more" He also made himself help by some of the juniors, such as Joaquín Herencia or Miguel Ángel Cabral.

"He was a complex figure, his priority was himself. I had the challenge of improving, almost something pathological. I guess like all those who are very bright, "defines Jou Llorente, who was surprised "to see him so tense on match days, from the morning", and who talks about the problems on the track of that Madrid that would reconquer the Copa del Rey and lift the Cup Winners' Cup with the unforgettable 62 points of Petrovic to Snaidero Caserta (117-113) at the Palace of Peace and Friendship in Athens and the no less historic Fernando Martín's anger, but he would lose the ACB – not without controversy, since the referee of the final match was Juan José Neyro, whom Drazen had spat in the face years ago, in the Puerto Real tournament – against Barça of Epi and Norris. "Training he didn't try very hard. That is, he did not train as he played and that made it difficult for the collective to adjust." That individualism was, at the same time, pure gold for his companions. Quique Villalobos, who was one of his closest supporters in the white locker room, usually remembers that with Drazen "the feeling is that it was impossible to lose".

Petrovic and Ramón Mendoza, after winning the Cup Winners' Cup.

"I always thought he was a big shy. He closed in on himself, he was obsessed. He did not even succumb to the night of Madrid, like other foreigners who arrived. I never got any of his nightly tricks," Lolo Sainz describes the myth he misses so much. "I have no hobbies. Only basketball," he pronounced. "He was introverted and a bit collected," confirms Llorente.

Four days after the fatal accident, at Zagreb's Mirogoj cemetery, 100,000 Croats with the nation's first president, Franjo Tudjman, and legendary coach Mirko Novosel at the helm, bid farewell to their hero. The one who lifted European Cups with Cibona, the one who conquered the NBA (22.3 points per game and 44.9% in three-pointers in his last season), the one who battled against the Dream Team, looking into Jordan's eyes, in the Olympic final. His mother Biserka, broken with grief, supported by her other son, Aza. His giant companions (Radja, Kukoc, Vrankovic...), shrunken carrying the coffin. Also close Chris Dudley and Chris Morris, of those Nets to whom it seemed that he was not going to return. And, from a distance, to brothers like Vlade Divac, with whom he was world champion at Luna Park three years earlier, now turned into enemies by war, without ever being able to say goodbye to him for a damn flag.

"It was a sad and hard time. It was an emblem of the country. In his best year, with that youth... It was shocking," says Tabak, one of those also present in the imposing burning chapel that was installed in the Cibona pavilion, which summarizes the legacy of the pioneer, the Mozart of basketball: "There have always been players who have changed history. For example, LeBron or Jokic now. Guys who bring something new. This was the Drazen era. He innovated, everyone looked at him trying to copy."

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