NBA, Style - Kicks and Gear / Oct 13, 2010 / 12:00 pm

The Best Basketball Documentary Since Hoop Dreams

Once Brothers

Once Brothers

Last night I was lucky enough to watch ESPN’s latest “30 for 30″ doc, Once Brothers. Narrated by Vlade Divac, it tells the story of the Yugoslavian national team brotherhood, the ensuing war, and the strain it caused in the relationship between Divac (from Serbia) and Croatian teammates Toni Kukoc, Dino Radja and Drazen Petrovic. Between the game highlights, the story of how their team formed and challenged the world, and the history lesson of the war and what it did to so many people, this is not only one of the best “30 for 30″ docs that ESPN has put out, but one of the best documentaries I have ever seen.

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.

What was an absolute joy, however, were each and every clip of on-court action. The Yugoslavian team looked like a well-oiled machine, dominating every European squad they faced and later beating both USA and the Russians in 1990. Other clips included Petrovic lighting up Dennis Johnson in ’88, Divac’s immediate success with the Lakers, and Petrovic becoming an NBA All-Star in New Jersey. This was a prolific look at a time and a bond that was formed over basketball. And it’s something I don’t think many in the United States understood, as it was happening in Yugoslavia.

As a high school freshman, I’d watch the Knicks and Nets games with my dad. And every time it came down to the fourth quarter and the games were close, we would always check in with the Nets on Sports Channel over the Knicks on MSG, because the Nets games were always more exciting. Whether it was the speed of Kenny Anderson, the post play of Derrick Coleman or the dead-eye shooting of Petrovic, it seemed like the Nets were in a thriller every night. Of course, little did I know or understand how much that war was affecting Petrovic and Divac as I watched them play. Petrovic’s death was real tough for me to accept — I can’t begin to imagine what his family, friends, teammates and of course Divac felt and continue to feel to this day. Hats off to ESPN and NBA Entertainment for producing this.

What did you think of Once Brothers?

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  • Steve Nash

    I made my pops buy me a Drazen t-shirt when I went to see them play… I remember him always yelling and being pissed lolz… didn’t really understand intensity back then (i was only 9)

    that footage bought back a lot of memories when he would just light it up… almost became a Nets fan… ALMOST…

    sometimes you don’t understand what goes on in the lives of these athletes… much respect to them, toni, dino, vlade, drazen for being able to play and wondering if their friends or family members are still alive or dead back home…

  • WinDelRoj

    This 30 for 30 series has been phenomenal. My father being from Colombia I believe “The Two Escobars” may be the best sports documentary period.Imagine playing on the world stage with death threats coming down on you and your family. Except in a country where those threats are more meaningful since the law doesnt mean anything (proof is that a player was in fact killed). Im looking forward to this one as well.

  • RikkJames

    those were the days when athletes were our heroes and honoured the uniforms they played in, too bad things done changed.

  • Promoman

    It’s a shame that Drazen didn’t get the chance to show what he could’ve been. I think he, Arvydas Sabonis, and Dirk Nowitzki are the best European players ever.

  • Jason

    RikkJames, STFU!

    Do you really think the world was a better place when “athletes were our heroes?” And, who’s to say that some athletes aren’t the heroes of today’s youth?

    If you’re looking at athletes to be role models/heroes for our youth then we, as a society, are FUCKED!

  • http://www.glidehoyas.blogspot.com Kent

    Nice inspirational story on two great players and close friends (brothers), it could be the best basketball documentary since Hoop Dreams, but I think the best basketball documentary that EVER came out in April 2009 is called POET PRIDE, a long, overdue, untold story about the greatest high school team ever, The Dunbar High School Poets Basketball Team from Baltimore, Maryland. Dunbar won 7 championships in a 8 year span. Hadn’t lost a game in two years. 59 game winning streak. 67-0. 82-83 National Champs 31-0, Tyrone Muggsy Bogues, David Wingate, the late Reggie Lewis, Reggie Williams, UNLV Keith James and many more, the reserves players got scouted in practices and all were offered Division 1 scholarships. Dunbar knocked off 7 of the ranked high school basketball teams in the USA!…http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PiqKpNZsOnU

    You can order a copy of the Poet Pride DVD here:



  • ENEW

    @ Kent, thanks so much for putting that out there. i definitely need to get a copy of that ASAP…

    Thanks for all the positive feedback

  • http://www.glidehoyas.blogspot.com Kent

    I hope 30 for 30 will do a skit on Dunbar High School, this was a phenomenal program…

  • http://www.glidehoyas.blogspot.com Kent

    ENEW thanks man and check out my blog Glidehoyas, dedicated to my late son, Hoyas and Hoyanation…I started my blog last season..


    My story:

    From Isaiah Swann’s (Florida State U) lady friend TheLindenBuzz.blogspot.com

    Follow me @Glidehoyas Twitter

  • http://www.glidehoyas.blogspot.com Kent

    Tell Austin Burton I said hello too, thanks and God Bless…Hoyas! #1 Georgetown Fan says John Thompson III

  • Renata Stuebner

    Amazing documentary! Congrats to ESPN! I enjoyed every minute of it! It did bring memeries how great it was growing up in Yugoslavia free of nationalist politcs, and how things turned unside down “overnite”… But, for those who survived, life has to go on.

  • Y.G.

    Last night’s 30/30 was great. Man that Yugoslav squad was stacked. It was very sad to watch though. It served to prove that nothing good comes from war. Drazen was a beast back in the day. I believe Vlade when he says that he didn’t mean to disrespect by his action. He seemed that he was a true nationalist, with a strong belief in a united Yugoslavia. But one can also Petro’s stance also: he was the Croactian chosen one; a man that had a lot of pride. So it must have really hard for him to make amends with Vlade. Petro represented so much to Croticans. Also, the Croticans were ones that suffered the most causalities during the war.

  • bx2dadeath

    I remember Petrovic with the Nets.
    Lights out shooter, tremendous scorer.
    I forgot how the US lost in ’90 to Yugo.
    Noticed Zo had a chain around his neck.

  • Shiptar

    i have yet to watch it, but i belive it’s awesome, as is this story.. i come from an ex-yugoslav country, so i understand the background. Can’t wait. Anyone knowx where to watch it?

  • Shiptar

    @Y.G.: i have to correct you. The country is calles Croatia and the people living there are Croats!

  • Woj

    Kudos to ESPN for producing “Once Brothers.” A great tribute to the first European “trailblazers” in the NBA as well as accomplished (often overlooked) basketball players. A great documentary that brought a human dimension to the story. Divac and Petrovic were in a class of their own. One can only imagine what would of been if Petrovic were still alive. As for Divac, a humble player who accomplished more than anyone thought he would.

  • s.bucketz

    go to demonoid.com its a torrent site..they got it there im downloadin it right now cuz i missed it last night..i cant wait to watch it later tonight

    oh and at the author..are u kidding me??u used to watch the nets over the knicks in the 90s??u lost all credibility right ther homie haha

  • Fraz

    Very powerful documentary last nite. It had the right tone. Made me sad at the war, Divacs anguish and Drazen’s untimely death. But also made me smile and feel like a kid again seeing those highlights of Drazen going at the NBAs best. That yugoslavian team was stacked! Its too bad Divac and Drazen were never able to patch things up.

    Was it just me, but it seemed like at the end when Vlade was visiting Croatia that the people were giving him dirty looks. And didn’t one guy curse him to the camera or something? Sad.

  • Ron

    I agree with Eric Newman – this is one of the best documentaries I have ever watched – sports, or any subject. In fact, with Game 5 between Texas and Tampa Bay coming on, I really had no intention of watching more than a few minutes of “Once Brothers” – until Game 5 started. But I was immediately engrossed and couldn’t turn away from it. Even my wife had the same reaction. She walked in about five minutes in and wanted me to change the channel – she’s not into anything sports. But after a minute she was also engrossed.

    Once Brothers was great from a basketball perspective but even better from a human experience perspective.

  • Jeff

    I had the same reaction as Ron – sometimes catch the 30/30 documentaries, sometimes I don’t; I caught the first 10 minutes and I was in, game over, watching the whole thing. Paused it on the DVR to go tuck my daughter in, but then we both watched the rest without saying a word. The final scenes with Vlade talking things over with Drazen’s mother were moving. Bravo to NBA Entertainment (producers) and ESPN for some quality TV.

  • Mtx

    Vlade is flopping on the pic

  • Black Assassin

    Great documentary. Vlade has always been my nigga so Im glad he was able to get that off his chest. Petro was a beast back then giving MJ in his prime 40? Nutz.

  • Sterling

    @s.bucketz: Actually I agree with Enew, those Nets games were much more exciting to watch, especially when you compare it with the ‘thugs’ playing a 75-74 thriller on MSG. True NBA fans appreciate that Nets squad

  • http://www.dimemag.com heino skovgaard

    wilt chamberlain is the father of lebron james….

  • ENEW

    Thanks Sterling.

    @s.bucketz – I did not say or imply the entire 90’s, only 92 and 93 was this even going on. Also, I am life long Celtics fan, so while I respected the Knicks of the 90’s as they were passing the Celtics and that did not sit well, hence watching Draz, DC and Kenny while listening to Spencer Ross and Bill Rafferty have a great time doing the game was real easy.

    “Petro for 3…bada bing.”

  • stani

    “the Croticans were ones that suffered the most causalities during the war”

    shut da fuck up u dickhead! Y.G. what da fuck do you know ? why would u even say such a comment cause u saw it on Cnn LOL dickhead

  • http://www.glidehoyas.blogspot.com Kent

    it’s a shame when folks get on here and hide behind a computer curse, rant and rave, please stop! @Stani, keep your feelings to yourself and have some CLASS and RESPECT at least for YOURSELF!!! AND OTHERS!!!

  • Joe From Chicago

    Kudos to Dion Cocoros for making this documentary happen.

    Absolutely amazing.