Blog Entry

ESPN's Drazen Petrovic doc drawing rave reviews

Posted on: October 13, 2010 1:07 pm
Edited on: August 14, 2011 7:49 pm
ESPN's documentary film about former NBA players Drazen Petrovic and Vlade Divac is garnering great reviews.

Posted by Ben Golliver

On Tuesday night, ESPN premiered "Once Brothers ", their latest entry in the "30 for 30" film series . The film looks at former NBA players Drazen Petrovic and Vlade Divac and how war in the Balkans during the 1990s strained the relationship between Croatians and Serbians.

The heavy Twitter hype last night was apparently not misplaced: cruising through cyberspace today, "Once Brothers" is drawing unanimously positive reviews. Here's a sample of what the critics have to say.  
Eric Newman of Dime Magazine calls it "the best basketball documentary since Hoop Dreams."
As someone who grew up watching Petrovic and Divac from their first days in the NBA, this was an incredible piece to watch. It was no accident that these two left their mark in the NBA, as the flash and charisma of both players made them fan favorites. It is what came between them that also made this story so sad. Reliving the tragic death of Petrovic in 1993 and learning that Divac has been carrying around the burden of never sitting down with Petrovic to settle their differences was emotional to watch, to say the least.
Writing on TrueHoop, Zach Harper says it was his favorite of the 30 for 30 series .
However, outside of the beautiful basketball we saw a tempestuous glimpse into the overall message of what was lost and how easily worlds can be torn apart. It left me feeling fairly sad about the entire project. Some may criticize the use of Vlade as the film’s simultaneous muse and a narrator, but I found it to be the only way to dive into the events of what happened and the emotional dissonance that rose from these friendships being put on hold -- some permanently.
John Scheibe of the Los Angeles Times praises the movie's visuals .
In part, "Once Brothers" has the look of a foreign film, with subtitles and beautiful photography. Tolajian focuses on Vlade Divac, shadowing him on a journey from Belgrade to Zagreb, Croatia, where the former Lakers center tries to comes to grips with the death of his teammate, Drazen Petrovic, who died in a car crash at age 28.
Sean Highkin of Rip City Project loved the geopolitical exploration .
But basketball aside, the real story here is the way that the friendship between Petrovic and Divac was thrown into turmoil by the breaking up of Yugoslavia. Divac is Serbian, while Petrovic (and several other teammates) were Croatian. This didn’t affect their relationship in the slightest before the start of the civil war, but the tension mounted as reports came in of the gunfire and destruction in their home country, coming to a head immediately after Yugoslavia’s defeat of the Soviet Union in the 1990 FIBA championship game, when Divac yanked a Croatian flag away from a fan who ran onto the court to celebrate. Divac claims it was a gesture of support for a unified Yugoslavia, but Petrovic and his Croatian teammates grew increasingly distant from the Serbian big man. Divac tried repeatedly to make amends with Petrovic, but was unable to do so before Drazen’s death. The country of Croatia still hasn’t entirely regained its trust of Divac, as we see in one particularly powerful scene in which he visits Zagreb for the first time since the beginning of the war.
Dan Devine of Yahoo!'s Ball Don't Lie says the film's honesty and seriousness of its subject helps it succeed.
The emotional toll that the war took on the former national team members, both individually and collectively — the national division (plus one controversial action that, as the film plainly shows, still damns Divac in the minds of many) severely damaged the relationships among the Serbian Divac and his Croatian teammates Kukoc, Radja and Petrovic — is palpable throughout the film. Their honesty in discussing it is perhaps the greatest asset of a film teeming with them. As near as I can tell, this is exactly the kind of presentation "30 for 30" was meant to produce — an enthralling recounting of a forgotten or underappreciated story about how sports and capital-letters Real Life interact.
David Cassilo of SlamOnline enjoyed the discussion of international players adjusting to life in the NBA.
What makes this a must-see for any NBA fan is that within the main story is the story of how an international player adjusts to the NBA. Divac and his former Yugoslavian teammates express all of the obstacles that are in the way for a foreign-born player, including style of play, language and the lack of belief by others that they could actually cut it in the NBA.
I just spent like 14 hours reading about this movie and I don't think I came across a truly negative paragraph. Given that this is the internet we're talking about, that's pretty impressive.

If you want to judge for yourself, "Once Brothers" re-airs tonight at 8 p.m. on ESPN 2.

Since: Oct 11, 2006
Posted on: October 14, 2010 2:49 am

ESPN's Drazen Petrovic doc drawing rave reviews

I had an exchange student from Macedonia, a tiny country carved out of former Yugoslavia, living at my house the year Drazen died. He was devestated. The way this guy would talk about the war raging around his home country, which managed to stay mostly peaceful, and how the war pitted former best friends and even family members against eachother was hard for an American kid to imagine. This guy was a hell of a baller too, all the inner city ballers would kind of laugh at his accent and Euro-style play, but he commanded respect on the court with his shot and dribbling and defense, which he said was basically modeled off Petro. A major NBA fan, he loved Petro and Divac, and used to almost cry (and this was kind of a tough guy) when talking about the way their friendship disappeared over evil and foolish politics. That friendship was more than basketball, it was the fate of two countries. Good job ESPN, I almost forgot this chapter of life and basketball.

Since: Jul 29, 2009
Posted on: October 14, 2010 1:10 am

ESPN's Drazen Petrovic doc drawing rave reviews

I just saw the documentary and as one poster previously said, it truly puts things in perspective.  Funny how we (Americans) complain about democratic, republican and independent issues, but none of it compares to the storyline in this documentary.  Vlade (et al), you've done a terrific job in sharing this with us.  Thanks!

I remember watching Petrovic play and he was a terrific phenom.  He literally was unstoppable on the court and he was the late 80's and early 90's version of Pistol Pete.  Each time he took a shot, you knew it was going in.  No one was successful guarding him.  He just punished whomever tried.  The documentary is an excellent example of what true friendships should be.  On the court, Vlade and his teammates problems disappeared, but the minute they stepped off the court, the pettiness of others was used to corrupt and destroy the team's unity. 

I thought the ending scenes with Vlade sitting down with Drazen's Mom and brother, were great, especially when he showed her the picture of he and Drazen's embrace on the court.

Yes, the documentary was sad, but uplifting at the same time.  NBA fans of all ages would enjoy this documentary.  Definitely one I'm going to keep for a long time.

Excellent presentation Vlade and ESPN!!!

Since: Oct 13, 2010
Posted on: October 13, 2010 10:33 pm

ESPN's Drazen Petrovic doc drawing rave reviews

Petrovic was an amazing player.  i will never forget watching him play and i truly mourned when he passed.  the documentary was great in showcasing this amazing person and his tumultuous relationship with Divac.  i saw it by accident and could not change the channel until it was finished, and that never happens to me anymore.  i am glad that Petro is getting the love and respect that he deserves

Since: Nov 7, 2008
Posted on: October 13, 2010 10:23 pm

ESPN's Drazen Petrovic doc drawing rave reviews

A great documentary on a conflict that has never gotten the attention that it should have.  Far better than most of the films in this series.  A must see for historians, people who lived through the late 90's and probably didn't even know the war was going on, as well as NBA fans.

Since: Sep 13, 2006
Posted on: October 13, 2010 9:22 pm

ESPN's Drazen Petrovic doc drawing rave reviews

In a series of truly outstanding Documentaries, this is tied, and this is truly only my opinion, with the USFL one.   I loved the Bandits, more than the Bucs, so that one had meaning to me more so.

But this one, and as I type, I may change, but it was enthralling.  I was a huge Petro fan, and loved to watch him, and as a young gamer, use him on Sega NBA games, lol 

The human emotion, the thrilling storyline off-court, and the sadness and destruction, on many levels, of war. 

I am sure if your of that ethnic heritage, the story is even more purposeful, and I am sure, that dynamic, Serbs and Croats as friends, and then, bitter enemies, was prevalent all over Yugoslavia.   Sad...sad...sad.  

Awesome work by all involved in bringing us that masterfully told and shot story.   Thanks to all. 


Since: Oct 13, 2010
Posted on: October 13, 2010 9:18 pm

ESPN's Drazen Petrovic doc drawing rave reviews

i am literally in tears. why did it have to end for drazen that way. the legacy that he left behind will truly be remembered  in this documentary. the best ever!!!!!!!!! we will see him again!

Since: Oct 13, 2010
Posted on: October 13, 2010 8:56 pm

ESPN's Drazen Petrovic doc drawing rave reviews

i felt the same as you did. i missed the first half of it and i had to go to to see if and when it would air again. they should make this into a dvd. i hate that their friendship had to end of things like that. i guess i could see both points of view.

Since: Oct 13, 2010
Posted on: October 13, 2010 8:51 pm

ESPN's Drazen Petrovic doc drawing rave reviews

this is my second time watching this documentary of divac and petrovic. it is without a doubt my favorite of all time. i remember watching petrovic and thought he was an incredible player. i also can remember the day he died. this really touched me and i hate that drazen life had to end so soon. he was gonna blow up the NBA. He would have stunned the world!  

Since: May 17, 2009
Posted on: October 13, 2010 5:34 pm

ESPN's Drazen Petrovic doc drawing rave reviews

I thought it was pretty cool, I enjoyed it.

Since: Feb 5, 2009
Posted on: October 13, 2010 5:29 pm

ESPN's Drazen Petrovic doc drawing rave reviews

I turned it on by chance and couldn't turn it off.  An story that is sad and uplifting at the same time.  Certainly puts a more serious perspective on professional athletes.  My wife is from Poland and the ethnic blood is bad between some former Eastern bloc countries.  Nonetheless, I came away with much greater respect for all of the Yugoslavian players in the film.  And we complain about how bad we have it here.  We have it so good. 

The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of CBS Sports or