Dražen played guard for Cibona from 1984 until 1988. He wore jersey number 10. In those years Zagreb was the capital of European basketball. It was a four-year period of packed crowds, of fans looking in vain for tickets to watch Cibona play, a time when the best European teams featuring the greatest players of their day came to visit, and of basketball that bordered on genius. In those years Cibona had something that no one else had – showtime. Cibona finally had a superstar in its ranks. Many people still remember him coming to Zagreb, how he played, how he became an audience favorite, never believing that in the near future such a connection with the fans would not be possible ever again. Dražen and his fans fell in love with each other at first sight. In Dražen’s first two seasons Cibona’s games were played in Dom sportova, which became too small to hold everyone who wanted to watch Dražen’s art on the court. The stands were crowded, everybody watched the games because of Dražen’s play, he never considered a game unimportant, and never had a game he did not want to play, did not want to win or score the most points. And nobody was surprised by the comments that Cibona’s new venue, built in 1987 for the World University Games, was too small to hold everyone who wanted to watch Dražen since every venue wherever Cibona played back then was too small.
In Dražen’s first two years with Cibona, they did not lose a single league game. In those two years, Cibona played five times against Real Madrid, then considered one of the best European clubs. Cibona won all five games. Back then, Dražen often scored 40 or more points in a game and he was famously nicknamed King of the Court, Mr.40 and, of course, Amadeus, or the Mozart of Basketball. Dražen’s record from 1985 in a game against SMELT Olimpija of Ljubljana is also noteworthy – he scored 112 points. Some fans considered his greatest performance to be an unofficial record because the game was played against the junior team, although it was an official game in the first round of the 42nd national championship of Yugoslavia.
Dražen was the one who managed to unite his teammates’ qualities and made Cibona a top European team. They won the European Champions Cup twice, first in 1985 in Athens when they defeated Real Madrid 87:78. After a sleepless night, fans gave them a tremendous welcome at Zagreb Airport. Of course, the delighted crowd most raucously Dražen. After the welcome, Dražen said: “We must do it again.” That was Dražen’s principle: when it is over, it is over. He did not live in the past. There were no all-night parties or tears the day after. A dream had come true. The next year it happened again. Cibona became the European Champion for the second time in Budapest against Žalgiris. Two of the greatest European players – Dražen and Arvydas Sabonis were the center of attention. In 1986, the welcome was just as spectacular. Coming home from Budapest was like driving home along a flower road. All the way from the border the fans were welcoming Cibona’s bus of happiness along the road. Grownups were lifting the children so they could see the champions, covering them with flowers. If Dražen and the other players had so wished, the fans would have carried the bus to Zagreb. In Zagreb the winners were greeted near Dom sportova where the crowd carried Dražen on their shoulders up to his apartment on the 14th floor of the skyscraper across from the hall. In those days, welcome celebrations were not organized; it was the atmosphere and excitement among the people that inspired tens of thousands of people to gather spontaneously to meet and welcome the double European Champions. After such great achievements, Dražen always carried the trophies to the fans. He used to say: “It’s a pity we don’t have two trophies. One for us and one for you.”
In the last two years of his career at Cibona everyone knew that some things could not be repeated. And Dražen simply had to move on. This time, he again acted on his basketball instinct. His next move was to Spain – to Real Madrid, the club that had played five games against Cibona in Dražen’s first two seasons with the club and lost all of them. Dražen was under enormous pressure. Madrid wanted him on their team as quickly as possible. Dražen’s transfer to Real was hindered by several rules, in particular the one that said a player could not play abroad before the age of 28. Real insisted, they wanted Dražen in their club at all costs. The price that the Yugoslav Basketball Federation, Cibona or Dražen would ask was not an issue. Real agreed to everything. Cibona management met with their counterparts from Real and agreed to Dražen playing with Cibona until 1988, then transferring to Real Madrid. In 1986, everything was arranged and the contract signed. Apart from tidy sums for the Federation and Cibona, Dražen’s contract is still remembered as the most lucrative one in European basketball at the time. The first million dollar contract. Dražen signed it when he was only 22 years old. Then, as well as today, people said that only the royal club deserves a King.
The contract was signed for four years, but already then many people knew that Dražen was not going to stay at Real that long.
- 1985 National Champions, European Champions, Yugoslav Cup Winners
- 1986 European Champions, Yugoslav Cup Winners and National Championship Finalists
- 1987 the Cup Winners Cup winners
- 1988 Yugoslav Cup Winners and the Radivoj Korać Cup Finalists