Wednesday, Sept. 9, 2009 | 2:05 a.m.
Haunted by Drazen Petrovic?
Coin-operated video game creator Mark Turmell once told ESPN The Magazine of a unique feature of his original “NBA Jam” game, one that he didn’t program into the machine.
“We had already finished making NBA Jam when Drazen Petrovic died. The game had already shipped and he was on the Nets. So we had all of these coin-op machines around, and one night we were playing Mortal Kombat and there was a Jam machine next to it, and all of a sudden the game started calling out ‘Petrovic!’ ‘Petrovic!’ And this only happened after Petrovic had died. Everyone started freaking out. Something weird was going on with the software, and to this day, if you have an original NBA Jam machine every once in a while it will just yell out ‘Petrovic!’ It's wild.”
The two nephews of the late basketball stars at times feel the weight of the last names on the back of their jerseys.
However, Marko Petrovic and Nick Johnson, two of the newest Findlay College Prep players, counter those emotions with immense pride in their surnames.
“I’m very proud of that name,” said Petrovic, nephew of the late Drazen Petrovic. “That name left some footsteps in basketball, in Europe and in America. I want to continue that.”
Johnson bears a freckle-faced resemblance to his late uncle Dennis Johnson.
“It’s definitely a big thing,” said Nick Johnson. “It’s pressure, kind of. He was one of the greatest. I try, every time I step between the lines, to resemble him, to do what he did. Obviously, it got him somewhere great.”
Drazen Petrovic scored 112 points, on 40-for-60 shooting, for Cibona Zagreb in a Yugoslavia League game in October 1985.
He played in Europe for 10 years before moving to the NBA in 1989, where he played four seasons with Portland and New Jersey.
He helped the former Yugoslavia, in its final competition before its dissolution, win a world championship in 1990. Vlade Divac, Toni Kukoc and Petrovic beat the U.S. in a semifinal and the former Soviet Union for the title.
Petrovic was killed on a rain-slick Autobahn 9 in Germany in June 1993. Asleep in the passenger seat of a Volkswagen Golf, Petrovic was not wearing his seat belt when the car struck a truck.
The truck, which had crossed the median to avoid a collision, had come to a rest seconds earlier. Drazen Petrovic was 28.
The Nets retired Petrovic’s No. 3 five months later, and he was posthumously enshrined into the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame in 2002.
In 1995, a statue of Drazen Petrovic was erected outside the Olympic Museum in Lausanne, Switzerland.
A Web site offers a tribute to Petrovic, with a photograph of the 6-foot-5 shooting guard in motion above “THE GREATEST EUROPEAN PLAYER OF ALL TIME,” as computer wallpaper.
“He could do anything he wanted,” said Marko Petrovic. “He became one of the best shooters in the NBA. He worked a lot, and I want to work as much as he did.”
Among the tapes and DVDs he’s reviewed of his famous uncle’s games is a tape of Drazen Petrovic’s funeral in Zagreb, Croatia. Marko was 2.
“Thousands of people were at that funeral,” said Marko Petrovic, a 6-4, 180-pound senior shooter. “I saw my mom and dad crying. Everyone was crying.”
It is both good and bad that he is instantly recognized on the streets of Zagreb and in many basketball arenas in Europe. One bad game and they talk about how poorly the nephew of Drazen Petrovic played.
“I want to be Marko,” Marko Petrovic said. “I came here to prove I can play as Mark Petrovic.”
That was his father’s message to Findlay coach Mike Peck.
“Everything is Drazen, Drazen, Drazen,” Peck said. “He has great respect for his late uncle, but his dad told me, ‘He’s Marko. He’s not Drazen. I’m not saying he’s better or as good … he’s Marko, his own player. He wants to make his own name.’ ”
Dennis Johnson was 52 when he was struck by a fatal heart attack after running a basketball practice at the Austin Convention Center, in Texas, in February 2007.
The 6-4 guard was a five-time All-Star and won three NBA championships, two with Boston and one in Seattle, when he was named the MVP of the NBA Finals in 1979.
Nick Johnson remembers getting the dreaded call from his father, former Arizona State leaper Joey Johnson. Three days later, the family left its home in Gilbert, Ariz., for the funeral in Los Angeles.
“Tragic,” said Nick. “From what I heard, he died on the court playing one of his players. I’d say that’s the way I’d want to die; playing the game I love.”
A 6-3, 175-pound junior, Nick Johnson, who left Highland High in Gilbert to play for Findlay, is ranked as one of the top 12 shooting guards in the country in his class by the recruiting service Rivals.com.
Arizona, Gonzaga, Ohio State and Virginia Tech are among the seven programs that have offered Johnson a scholarship. UNLV, according to Rivals, is among 15 schools interested in him.
Peck sees a lot of Avery Bradley, last season’s calm and cool star who was a rudder of the Pilots’ run to a 33-0 record and national championship, in Johnson.
“Nick is poised and he’ll get after it on the court,” Peck said. “He looks a little like Dennis Johnson, but he’s a million times more athletic. He probably jumps a good 40 inches higher than Dennis ever could.”
Marko Petrovic and Nick Johnson are keenly aware that, for them, their famous late uncles set the bar much higher than that.