After 714 NBA video games, 145 worldwide league contests and 91 FIBA matches, Goran Dragic is formally an NBA All-Star.
Injury substitute or not, the 31-year-old Miami Heat guard has performed a few of his greatest basketball the previous two seasons, sustaining momentum when most guards start to lose steam. It’s the resilience that Dragic reveals on the ground that has been a constant theme all through his NBA profession — one that nearly did not final.
“That first year that I struggled, I had thoughts to go back to Europe,” Dragic instructed ESPN throughout Eurobasket in Helsinki this previous summer season. “I was alone. I even cried in my room talking to my dad. ‘They don’t give me a chance. This is not for me’ … If I would have been in a different situation with a different team, probably I would be back in Europe.”
Rise in Slovenia
Growing up in Ljubljana, Dragic was a ball boy for Union Olimpija — the Balkan nation’s prime membership — shagging rebounds and darting chest passes to future NBA middle Rasho Nesterovic throughout warm-ups. Olimpija’s head coach typically instructed Nesterovic that Dragic would play within the NBA sometime, which sparked amusing from the 7-footer.
“I was way different,” Dragic mentioned. “I was skinny, small, really quick. I was not a scorer. I was more as a facilitator. My shot was not quite polished yet. I was so quick, wanting to get inside the paint, so I didn’t work so much on my game at that time.”
Less than a decade later, a 20-year-old Dragic made his Slovenian senior national workforce debut as Nesterovic’s teammate in the course of the 2006 World Cup (a event that featured Yao Ming, Dirk Nowitzki, Manu Ginobili and Dwyane Wade). Making the workforce was the apex of Dragic’s younger profession, and his agent, who represented the Phoenix Suns‘ 2003 first-round decide, Zarko Cabarkapa, knowledgeable David Griffin’s entrance workplace about Slovenia’s rising star. NBA groups started monitoring the ultra-aggressive lefty guard as he developed in his house nation. With Dragic’s identify gaining traction throughout Europe, he signed a four-year cope with heralded Spanish membership Tau Ceramica (now referred to as Baskonia), with a buyout of 1.6 million Euro after his third season.
During Dragic’s first yr below contract, he was loaned to Murcia, a lesser Spanish membership, with which he performed a small position off the bench and broke his hand, inflicting him to miss two months of motion. That summer season, the 21-year-old Dragic continued to construct his FIBA profile, enjoying 25 minutes per recreation on a European Championship workforce that went 6-Three, with wins over Tony Parker and France (twice), Germany, Turkey, Poland and Italy.
Dragic was set to lastly take the ground with Tau Ceramica because the 2007-08 season neared. But then Union Olimpija known as, asking for Dragic on mortgage and promising him the start line guard job. Tau agreed to ship Dragic again to his hometown, and he ultimately emerged as a first-round expertise, considered by some because the draft’s second-best level guard behind 2008 No. 1 decide Derrick Rose.
Dragic began 11 of 13 EuroLeague video games with Olimpija, completed fourth within the Adriatic League in win shares and performed an enormous position in bringing a Slovenian League Championship to Ljubljana. Alongside brash veteran ahead Sasa Doncic, the daddy of potential 2018 No. 1 decide Luka Doncic, Dragic led Olimpija to an 18-2 Slovenian League file and an 84-60 win over Domzale within the last.
“This is a very beautiful memory,” Sasa Doncic mentioned. “[Dragic] loved basketball. He was first in the practice, last at the practice. He had a good, good will. He was ready for the chance. He was preparing for the chance.”
Shortly after the victory, Dragic flew to Treviso, Italy, to catch the final day of the heralded Reebok EuroCamp, drawing rave reviews from NBA groups and ESPN’s Jonathan Givony. The camp was loaded with studs again then, together with Dragic, Nicolas Batum, Serge Ibaka, Omer Asik, Alexey Shved and Donatas Motiejunas.
As Dragic’s buzz grew, so did Phoenix’s infatuation with the fiery guard. The Suns introduced Dragic in for a pre-draft exercise run by former Suns assistant and 2017 Slovenian national workforce head coach Igor Kokoskov, who has turn out to be Dragic’s shut good friend and mentor. After former Suns govt and present ESPN analyst Amin Elhassan picked Dragic up from the airport, Kokoskov put him by means of a collection of drills.
The exercise was a very long time coming. Kokoskov had been courting Dragic whereas he was an assistant with the Detroit Pistons, craving for him to run his workforce ought to he land a head-coaching job in Europe.
“That would be the guy that I would love to coach,” Kokoskov mentioned. “I just loved his game. My wish to coach him became true … He was fearless.”
Dragic was extensively considered as a first-round expertise for the 2008 draft, however issues about his buyout noticed him fall to No. 45 within the draft — a decide the Spurs made for the Suns earlier than later swapping their 48th decide (Malik Hairston) for the rights to Dragic.
Once the buyout was lastly negotiated, Dragic signed a four-year, $10 million contract with Phoenix — three years assured and an possibility on the fourth. It seemed like Phoenix had its inheritor obvious to Steve Nash, however Dragic’s transition wasn’t so clean.
Early struggles in Phoenix
After a robust summer season league, Dragic stumbled out of the gates and posted a 9.eight participant effectivity ranking in 55 video games. Terry Porter succeeded Mike D’Antoni as head coach within the offseason heading into Dragic’s rookie yr. Shaquille O’Neal was in his first full season with the Suns, they usually have been in a transparent transitional part from Seven Seconds or Less basketball to a extra regimented fashion.
The mishmash group missed the playoffs for less than the third time in additional than 20 years. While Dragic’s confidence wavered, Nash, Grant Hill and assistant coaches stored him afloat as he doubted his choice to come to the U.S.
“[Kokoskov] was my second father. When I came to the States, he speaks the same language as I do. He was there for me 24/7,” Dragic mentioned. “I owe them so much that I even succeed within the NBA due to him and Dan Majerle and people guys.
“Igor was the primary man. He all the time talked to me. He all the time opened my eyes and my head. I all the time bear in mind him saying, ‘Just put arduous work in and be affected person.’ He was all the time saying endurance. At that point, I did not perceive that properly and now I actually do, I actually do. Even now I do not see him as a coach. I see him as my good friend.”
After displaying flashes throughout his sophomore marketing campaign, Dragic’s true NBA arrival got here below head coach Alvin Gentry within the 2010 playoffs towards the Spurs, when he exploded for 23 factors within the fourth quarter of a come-from-behind win. Kokoskov calls the efficiency “the $1 million greenback recreation.” Dragic unleashed a flexible scoring assault towards Tony Parker, whom he clashed with quite a few occasions on the FIBA circuit as a teenager. The lonely, tear-filled nights of his rookie season have been a distant reminiscence. Dragic had formally arrived within the NBA.
Although he was changing into extra of a family identify, Dragic’s path took extra twists and turns from there. From his rising in Phoenix to being traded to Houston to returning to Phoenix to touchdown in Miami, the chip on Dragic’s shoulder continued to gas his play.
“When he performs on an edge, he all the time responds,” mentioned Kokoskov, who’s now an assistant with the Utah Jazz and will rapidly emerge as an NBA head-coaching candidate. “He performed actually on an edge. Phoenix helped him with that commerce to play on the sting and be upset and show that we made a mistake.”
Dragic has confirmed it in Miami, averaging 20.Three factors and 5.eight assists per recreation final season and practically matching these numbers in his previous six February contests main to the All-Star break. The Heat are sliding, however as has been the case his complete profession, Dragic is beginning to hit his stride because the season goes alongside. He must be a deciding consider whether or not Miami can attain the playoffs.
From mentee to mentor
While Dragic remains to be writing his NBA story, his Slovenian national workforce profession might need come to a detailed this previous yr, after he led his house nation to an inconceivable European Championship gold medal, the primary within the small nation’s historical past.
With Luka Doncic enjoying beside him and his former teammate Sasa calling the video games, Dragic completed fourth in scoring (22.6) and PER (30.9) whereas dropping 35 factors on former Yugoslavian rival Serbia within the last.
“If I give that spot to the younger man, they will develop for the way forward for Slovenian basketball,” Dragic mentioned.
Dragic is essentially the most completed participant in Slovenian basketball historical past, and he has assumed the position of mentor for Luka Doncic as he embarks on what’s probably to be an extended, profitable NBA profession. Doncic met Dragic as a 7-year-old, when he was wiping flooring and rebounding for the younger Slovenian star identical to Dragic did for Nesterovic.
“He was only a younger man like I’m now,” Doncic said. “These are particular moments.”
Dragic has turn out to be Doncic’s national workforce roommate, good friend, mentor and sounding board as he goes by means of the pre-draft course of that nearly took Dragic to the brink mentally. Doncic’s state of affairs is totally different. He’s a possible No. 1 decide, a baby prodigy who has been producing at an unprecedented degree at age 18. But Dragic’s presence is crucial for Doncic, who will probably face the criticism that goes with European prospects chosen within the prime 5.
“What Steve Nash was for Goran 10 years in the past, that is what Goran has turn out to be for Luka,” Kokoskov mentioned.
As Dragic sat within the Crowne Plaza resort in Helsinki final summer season, a well-recognized face strolled by means of the foyer.
“We’re speaking concerning the satan, and the satan is behind us,” Dragic mentioned with a smile.
“Gogi!” yelled former Suns teammate and French national workforce participant Boris Diaw.
“Boo-boo!” responded an elated Dragic.
“32 factors?” Diaw requested.
“30 man,” Dragic mentioned as the 2 embraced.
Tales of the Phoenix days surfaced, notably the pool events within the sunny desert. “Let’s return,” Diaw said. “I nonetheless have my home there. I believe I am going to promote it, however I would like to do yet another pool get together.”
As the 35-year-old Diaw, a basketball legend and NBA champion, turns towards the tail finish of his profession, the 31-year-old Dragic remains to be enhancing. His transition jaunts, masterful footwork within the paint and step-back jumpers have turn out to be staples in Miami, and a whirlwind profession lastly seems to have reached stability — all culminating in an All-Star look on Sunday in L.A.
“After virtually 10 years figuring out one another, it is greater than only a coach-and-player relationship,” Kokoskov said of he and Dragic. “We’re buddies off the court docket. Our wives are buddies. Our youngsters are buddies. Goran was only a younger participant coming to the league, he was principally on his rookie orientation, and as he was rising as I used to be rising. Goran wasn’t my solely job, but it surely was a part of my job. Just nice reminiscences. Only nice reminiscences with Goran Dragic. He’s turn out to be among the best level guards on the planet.”