Tuesday, October 12, 2010

The Power of Sport


I do not know if you had the chance to watch the latest installment of ESPN's documentary series 30 for 30. Tuesday night was the premier of Once Brothers. The documentary presented the story of the former Yugoslavian national basketball team. The documentary traced the rise of the team that captured the 1989 European Championship to teammates pitted against one another as war erupted in the former Yugoslavia during the 1990s.

The documentary followed Vlade Divac as he traveled back to Zagreb, Croatia twenty years after capturing the European title. Along the journey, Vlade Divace recounted the story of how his relationship with the Croatian players on the national team changed once the conflict erupted in Yugoslavia. In particular, Divac shared with the audience his relationship with fellow national team member Drazen Petrovic.

Petrovic was a member of the Yugoslavian national team and all star in the NBA. Petrovic was a star in Europe and a national hero in Yugoslavia. Exploits of his scoring prowess were legendary. For Divac, Petrovic was a player he greatly admired and looked up to (Petrovic was four years older than Vlade). Divac would get a chance to play with Petrovic when he named to the national team. The two roomed together during training camps for the Yugoslavian national team and both entered the NBA in 1989.

Divac, drafted by the Lakers and Petrovic by the Blazers, relied on each other to get through the first year. Thousands of miles away from family and friends, the two would spend hours on the phone at night talking about the transition to a new country and life in the NBA. This tight bond between Divac and Petrovic dissipated as the conflict worsened back home. It got to the point were both men barely spoke and only exchanged quick pleasantries when their teams met.

Petrovic's promising career was cut short when he died in a car accident in June 1993. Divac always believed that once the war ended these old teammates could come together and rekindle what once was a treasured friendship. It was not meant to be and Divac has had to live with regret until he returned to Zagreb and sat down with Drazen's mother and visited Petrovic's grave.

The story shared by Divac was genuine, emotional and gripping. It also personalized a moment in history. As the title suggests, a tight bond formed between teammates was destroyed as war in the Balkans escalated. The documentary demonstrated how neighbors, colleagues and teammates took up arms against each other and that relationships and past history was of no consequence.

Think about how defining moments in sport can be a vehicle to examine the world. What enduring understandings can be established from examining Jesse Owens' performance in the 1936 Berlin Olympics or Jim McKay's tragic remarks, "that they are all gone," during his marathon telecast from Munich in 1972. Similarly how can a picture of the medal podium featuring Tommie Smith and John Carlos spur further inquiries into the mystery behind the single black gloves.

The use of sport as a vehicle to engage and stimulate meaningful inquiries cannot be overlooked. The inherent drama and personal struggle embedded into each contest causes an emotional reaction amongst those who are viewing an event. For 90 minutes it was impossible not to reflect upon the relationship shattered by war.

If you have not had the opportunity to view Once Brothers it will be replayed and is also available on iTunes.