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.