National team

Throughout his career Dražen regularly played for the national teams of Yugoslavia and later Croatia. He was the first captain of the Croatian national team, for whom he played 40 games and scored 1,004 points, an average of 25 points per game. He scored his first and last points for the national team against Slovenia – on 20 May 1992 and 6 June 1993.

Dražen won his first international trophy in the Balkan Junior Championships in Istanbul in 1980 (bronze medal). He played for the national team of Yugoslavia for the first time in a friendly game against Italy in Forli on 21 June 1982.

He represented his country three times in the World University Games: in Edmonton in 1983 (silver medal), in Kobe in 1985 (5th place) and in Zagreb in 1987 (gold medal). At the 14th Summer World University Games, which were held on 8-19 July 1987 in Zagreb, 6,423 athletes from 122 countries competed. We remember the Games for the mascot Zagi, designed by Nedjeljko Dragić, and the sports facilities that were newly built or refurbished for the games. At the opening ceremony, Dražen, one of the most successful Yugoslav athletes at the time, was given the honor of lighting the flame at Maksimir Stadium in front of student-athletes from around the world. That evening he suffered from stage fright he had not experienced in any of the basketball games he played in that year. He was given this honor because according to many world sport experts from that time he was the ideal athlete and embodied all the principles of Olympism. After numerous achievements and two European Champions Cups, basketball finally got its own hall for the World University Games. The auditorium in Zagreb officially opened on 30 June 1987 and later it, and the square on which it is located, were named for Dražen.

What should be singled out from his extremely successful career are Dražen’s appearances in the World and European Championships. In the World Championships in Madrid in 1986, the team won the bronze medal. Dražen was third in scoring, third in assists, and was named the tournament’s Most Valuable Player. At the next World Championships – in Buenos Aires in 1990 – the team won the gold medal.

drazen_jordanHis first two appearances in the European Championships were unsuccessful: Nantes in 1983 (7th place) and Stuttgart in 1985 (7th place), but Athens in 1987 (bronze medal) and Zagreb in 1989 (gold medal) followed.

Dražen appeared three times in the greatest international sporting event, the Olympic Games and won three medals: 1984 in Los Angeles (bronze medal), 1988 in Seoul (silver medal) and 1992 in Barcelona (silver medal).

At the Olympic Games in Barcelona the Croatian dream team played in the finals against the best team in the history of American basketball, the only true Dream Team. For the first time the United States was represented by professional players. Before that time, its teams were made up mostly of university players. Dražen was already acquainted with the NBA stars and knew what to expect. He exhorted his team-mates and infected all around him with his assurance and optimism. He used to say that Croatia did not have to beat the United States in the finals, but it must show that its players could cope with them. Our national team was the only one in those Olympic Games to hold a lead over Dream Team;  it happened in the 11th minute: 25:23. The final score was 117-85. Of all the national teams at the Olympic Games, we lost to Dream Team by the narrowest of margins – 32 points. Also, in this game Dražen emerged a winner – he outscored Michael Jordan 24 points to 22.

Dražen played his last game in Wroclaw in the qualifying tournament for the European Championships. The games in the qualifying round probably show best what kind of a man and player Dražen was. The Croatian national team would probably still have qualified for the European Championship without Dražen, but he simply did not want to miss this round. Dražen had a leg injury and everyone advised him to rest in preparation for the European Championship. He simply said: “I can’t, all my friends will be there. I can’t be the very first not to show up.” In six games Dražen scored 168 points, averaging 33.6 points per game. He was the best shooter, the leader in assists and the best player of the tournament. He scored his 1,000th point for the Croatian national team against Slovenia on 6 June 1993. His last point Dražen scored his last point from the free throw line, scoring 30 points for the game with  three three-pointers.

Achievements:

  • 1980 Istanbul – Balkan Junior Championship, bronze
  • 1981 Solun – Balkan Cadet Championship, gold
  • 1982 Patras – Balkan Junior Championship, gold
  • 1982 Dimitrovgrad – European Junior Championship, silver
  • 1983 Edmonton – World University Games, silver
  • 1984 Athens – Balkan Championship, silver
  • 1984 Los Angeles – Olympic Games, bronze
  • 1986 Madrid – World Championships, bronze
  • 1987 Athens – European Championships, bronze
  • 1987 Zagreb – World University Games, gold
  • 1988 Seoul – Olympic Games, silver
  • 1989 Zagreb – European Championships, gold
  • 1990 Buenos Aires – World Championships, gold
  • 1992 Barcelona – Olympic Games, silver