EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J., JUNE 7 -- New Jersey Nets star guard Drazen Petrovic, among the top shooters in the National Basketball Association and a third-team all-NBA selection this season, was killed instantly today when a car he was riding in smashed head-on into a truck near Frankfurt, Germany, his agent said.
Petrovic, 28, was traveling home to Zagreb, Croatia, from the qualifying tournament for the European basketball championships in Wroclaw, Poland. According to Croatian national coach Mirosav Novacek, Petrovic was traveling with two women, one of whom was driving the car. Both women also reportedly were killed in the accident, which occurred late this afternoon.
In Wroclaw, Petrovic had played for Croatia, leading his team into the European championships later this month in Germany.
Petrovic averaged 22.3 points on 52 percent shooting for the Nets this season. He was one of the NBA's top three-point shooters.
Petrovic is the fifth prominent athlete in American sports to die in accidents this year. Tim Crews and Steve Olin of the Cleveland Indians were killed in a boating accident in March. Race car driver Alan Kulwicki died in a plane crash in April and Iowa basketball star Chris Street was killed in a car accident in January.The first news of Petrovic's death reached the United States when his Croatian teammate, Dino Radja, contacted his New York-based agent, Marc Fleisher, tonight. Radja, a former Boston Celtic living in Croatia, heard the news from Novacek.
"Dino and Drazen were very, very close," Fleisher said. "Obviously, Dino is very, very upset."
Petrovic's attorney, Nicholas Goyak, told the Associated Press from his home in McMinnville, Ore., that he had spoken to members of Petrovic's family who confirmed Petro had been killed in the accident.A stunned Nets Coach Chuck Daly said tonight: "What a tragedy. The kid was in the prime of his life. There is death all the time. We have a lot in this city and you hear and read about it all the time.
"But when it strikes home and takes a guy in the prime of his life -- a great athlete like Draz -- it's a little bit more shocking. Life is so precious."
Petrovic would have been a restricted free agent July 1. After the Nets lost to the Cleveland Cavaliers in the first round of the playoffs, he said he was 95 percent sure he would return to Europe to play next season.
However, the Nets viewed that stance as a bargaining ploy. They were hopeful of re-signing a player they viewed as an integral part of their future.
Petrovic played four seasons in the NBA, starting with the Portland Trail Blazers. He was acquired by the Nets in January 1991 in a three-team deal involving the Denver Nuggets. One of the top pure shooters in the NBA, he led the Nets in scoring two seasons ago and was second last season.
The immensely popular Petrovic helped Croatia to a silver medal in last summer's Olympics in Barcelona.