Peja Stojaković life and biography

Peja Stojaković  picture, image, poster

Peja Stojaković biography

Date of birth : 1977-06-09
Date of death : -
Birthplace : Belgrade, Yugoslavia
Nationality : Serbian
Category : Sports
Last modified : 2010-08-06
Credited as : Basketball player NBA, small forward for the Dallas Mavericks, NBA Draft

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Peja Stojaković is a Serbian professional basketball player who plays for the Dallas Mavericks of the National Basketball Association (NBA).

Standing at 6 ft 10 (2.08 m), Stojaković plays the small forward position. Known for his shooting abilities, he was the winner of the NBA All-Star Weekend Three-Point Shootout twice, being the first European-born player to win one of the All-Star Weekend competitions. Currently, Stojaković is fourth NBA's all-time leader in regular season three-point field goals made.

Career history

1992–1994 Crvena zvezda (FR Yugoslavia)
1994–1998 PAOK (Greece)
1998–2006 Sacramento Kings
2006 Indiana Pacers
2006–2010 New Orleans Hornets
2010–2011 Toronto Raptors
2011–present Dallas Mavericks

ON THE RISE

In the spring of 1996, the Sacramento Kings selected Peja with the 14th pick of the draft. GM Geoff Petrie was crucified in the press when the personal services deal was discovered. Peja had been working through an Italian agent, Luciano Capicchioni, who in turn worked through an American agent, Herb Rudoy. Somewhere, something got lost in translation and the Kings and other clubs were led to believe that breaking the PAOK contract was a mere formality.

It was not. The Greek club refused to consider any financial remuneration for Peja’s departure. Now standing 6-9, the youngster was truly coming into his own, and team officials knew it. When the validity of Peja’s contract was challenged on the grounds that his father had signed it on his behalf as a minor, PAOK GM Vasilis Economidis contacted FIBA, which sided with the club.

The disappointment of getting stuck in Greece for the 1996-97 campaign was compounded by a broken leg that limited Peja to just 20 games. He bounced back in 1997-98 to average more than 23 points a game, win league MVP honors, and take PAOK all the way to the league finals, where the club lost to Panathinaikos.

With his obligations fulfilled, Peja was free to join the Kings, whose fans had all but forgotten about him. The NBA was in the midst of a bitter labor feud that ended up reducing the season to 50 games. Unable to workout with his new teammates until January of 1999, Peja never gained his rhythm. When the season started, he found himself in a new role: that of benchwarmer.

Going from league superstar to 10th man—while his skills improved—threw Peja for a loop. Every time he took the court, he was looking over his shoulder at coach Rick Adelman, wondering whether a missed shot or blown defensive assignment would earn him a seat back on the bench.

Not that the Kings were a bad team. On the contrary, Sacramento had the makings of an excellent club. Big men Chris Webber and Vlade Divac teamed with rugged Corliss Williamson to form a formidable front line. Slick-passing Jason Williams paired with meteoric Vernon Maxwell in the backcourt to round out the starting five. Peja played about 20 minutes a game, shot under 40 percent and, at least on paper, contributed little more to the Kings than eight points a game. The team finished fourth in the Pacific Division at 27-23 and lost to the Utah Jazz in an extremely tight five-game series.

Overall, the Kings were satisfied with Peja’s truncated rookie season. He showed versatility, flip-flopping between 2-guard and both forward positions. He also exhibited a flair for the game, as other Eastern Europeans had, combining good fundamentals with the occasional playground move. Peja saw the court, hit the open man, and was willing to work on his defense, which would be his biggest obstacle in claiming a starting role.

The disturbing backdrop to Peja’s whirlwind rookie campaign was the situation back home. Yugoslavia was being decimated by its monstrous dictator, Slobodan Milosevic, and every night the news painted an increasingly chaotic picture. Though his immediate family was safe in northern California, Peja’s grandparents and other family members were still overseas, where NATO bombing raids threatened to destroy the country’s infrastructure. Without Divac, a fellow Yugoslav Serb, nearby, Peja would have gone crazy with worry. It was great to have someone with whom he could share his fear and anxiety.

Divac was a godsend for another reason, too. An established star in the NBA, he told Peja how he had had to wait for a couple of season before the Los Angeles Lakers felt confident enough to give him 40 minutes a game. It was simply part of the maturation process.

That process continued through the 1999-2000 season, when Peja once again served as an all-around sub for Adelman. He boosted his minutes slightly and discovered the range on his jumper, raising his scoring to just under 12 points a game. He saved his best work for the division-rival Lakers, who he burned for more than 20 a game in their regular-season meetings. The Kings, who finished with a 44-38 record, were still finding themselves, but they gave Los Angeles all they could handle in the first round of the playoffs before bowing out.

Though Peja struggled in the playoffs against the Lakers, Sacramento was satisfied he was a small forward the club could bank on for years to come. The Kings promoted him to the starting lineup, and in September traded Williamson to the Detroit Pistons for Doug Christie.

MAKING HIS MARK

The 2000-01 Kings were simply awesome. They challenged the Lakers all the way to the finish, missing the division crown by one game. After eclipsing the Suns in the first round, they met Los Angeles in the conference semifinals, but were humiliated by Shaq, Kobe & Co. in a four-game sweep.

Though disappointed, Peja had every reason to feel good about his first year as an NBA starter. He established himself as one of the league’s premier shooters, and his outside scoring opened the paint for Webber and Divac, giving the Kings a more balanced attack. At the behest of his front-lline mates, Peja also began throwing the occasional elbow just to let opponents they couldn’ intimidate him.

Peja finished with a 20.4 average, hitting from the field at a respectable 47 percent clip, including 40 percent from beyond the arc. In the playoffs, he came through against the Phoenix Suns when Webber was slumping and proved the difference in the four-game series.

Sacramento started the 2001-02 campaign behind the eight ball, as Webber missed the first five weeks with a bad ankle. Without their marquee scorer, the Kings needed to retool. Peja stepped up with great outside shooting, particularly from three-point range. When defenders came out to meet him, he sliced to the basket, displaying a part of his game the league had not expected. With fans praying for a .500 record until Webber’s return, Peja averaged more than 23 points a night and carried the club to a 15-5 mark.

After Webber came back, Peja continued to average over 20 a game, and made important strides as a rebounder and defender. Opponents forced him to put the ball on the floor and go the basket, hoping to force a turnover. Sometimes Peja was tentative, sometimes not. But all the while he was evolving as an all-around player and holding his own. It helped to know that one or two mistakes would no longer land him on the bench—the Kings were committed to him as a cog in their offensive machine.

Another key to Sacramento’s success was their new point guard, Mike Bibby. Rescued from the Grizzlies in a trade for Jason Williams, he provided consistent floor leadership and clutch scoring. Bibby joined a team that now featured tremendous depth. Indeed, with bench players Scot Pollard, Bobby Jackson and Hidayet Turkgolu, the Kings had all the ammunitin for a serious playoff run.

That run started after Sacramento—proud owners of the NBA’s best record at 61-21—took on Karl Malone and the Jazz in the first round. The teams each took one at Arco Center, then the Kings won Game 3 in Salt Lake City. They built a solid lead heading into the final quarter of Game 4 until Utah came roaring back. With the Jazz primed to knot the series, Peja drained a clutch three-pointer to close out the series.

It was the kind of shot the Kings had come to expect from Peja, who had finished the year averaging over 21 a game on 48.4 percent shooting. Sacramento loved to whip the ball around on offense, and seemed to specialize in frantic games. But when the tide turned against them, Peja was the man they looked to for the big shot. Even when he was running cold—as he had been against the Jazz—Sacramento’s confidence in him was usually sky high.

Peja’s shooting slumped versus the Dallas Mavericks in round two, but the Kings simply overwhelmed Dirk Nowitzki and his teammates. Sacramento’s greatest concern afterwards was the sprained ankle Peja suffered midway through the series. He had to be carried to the lockerroom and missed the final two contests against the Mavs. The news grew worse when doctors told Adelman that Peja would be unavailable for Games 1 and 2 in the next series, against the Lakers.

Had Peja been healthy, the Kings—who owned homecourt advantage—probably would have been favored. Divac had always done well against Shaq, and Christie felt he could contain Kobe Bryant. But without their long-range bomber, Sacramento would have to rely on Bibby for outside shooting, while Webber would have to deal with a collapsing Laker defense.

Peja watched from the bench as the teams split the first two contests in Sacramento, then the next two in L.A. Listed as doubtful for Game 5, he played sparingly in the second and fourth quarters. He did not have the quickness needed to free himself for open jumpers, and was a defensive liability. The Kings were deep enough to pull out a 92-91 victory to come within a win of the NBA finals.

But that was as close as they got. With Peja continuing to see limited action and Turkgolu unable to fill his shoes, the Lakers won Game 6, then beat the Kings in overtime at the Arco Center, 112-106. Peja had a chance to send the Kings to the finals when Adelman called him off the bench in the waning seconds of regulation. He fired up a three-pointer but missed everything. The shot haunted him all summer long.

The 2002-03 season started badly for Peja, too. An on-again, off-again case of plantar’s fasciitis flared up and kept him sidelined for several weeks. Luckily, the team’s bench was strong enough to keep the Kings out front in the Pacific Division. Peja returned to the lineup and regained his stroke in January, but Webber went down with an ankle sprain, forcing the club to continue playing short-handed.

The injury to Webber did have a bright side: With the power forward unable to play in the All-Star Game, Peja was selected to go in his place. He already had a ticket to All-Star Weekend as defending champion of the Three-Point Shootout. Being named to the West squad was icing on the cake. Peja celebrated by edging Wesley Person for the second year in a row in the trey contest, then logged 13 minutes and scored five points the next day as the West beat the East 155-145 in double overtime.

Peja finished the year with his game firing on all cylinders. Hed shot better than 50 percent down the stretch and brought his average up over 19 points per game. He was tremendous against the Jazz in the first round of the playoffs, a series won by Sacramento in five games. An injury to Webber’s back, however, did not leave the Kings in a good mood.

In round two, Sacramento hooked up in a wild series with the high-scoring Mavericks. The frenetic pace seemed perfect for the Kings, but Dallas hung tough and eked out a seven-game victory. Had Webber stayed healthy, there is little doubt the Kings would have disposed of the Mavs. What made the loss doubly frustrating is that the Lakers were upended by the Spurs, who went on to win the championship. With Divac and Webber, Sacramento had the front line to deal with David Robinson and Tim Duncan. When the Spurs blew out the Nets to capture the NBA title, every fan in Sacramento thought it should have been their team hoisting the trophy.

Peja agreed. When it became clear that Webber would not make it back from offseason knee surgery until sometime in 2004, he realized that his teammates would look to him as their leader. He accepted this responsibility and, after just a few games, felt comfortable in his new role.

Some questioned the wisdom of making Peja Sacramento’s de facto on-court leader. The club was renown for its teamwork, and most of Peja's points came because of that teamwork. Granted, he was hardly a playmaker. But since the Kings regularly counted on him to hit the finishing shot, Peja was an ideal choice as Sacramento's frontman.

Heading into the All-Star break, Peja was among the league scoring leaders and the Kings were first in the league in points. Bibby also shouldered some of the load, as did newcomer Brad Miller. It got to the point where people were joking that Webber would have to earn his minutes when he returned. When he did return, the Kings traded him to Philadelphia in February, picking up Corliss Williamson and Kenny Thomas in the deal. Peja was now the Kings’ unquestioned go-to guy—when he was healthy.

Injuries dogged Peja all season long, limiting him to 66 games. Back spasms, the flu, right hamstring, left groin—finally, Adelman shut him down in April so he would be ready for the playoffs. Peja finished the year at 20.1 points per game, and he also averaged 38.4 minutes played—one of the best marks in the league and all the more remarkable considering his health problems.

The Kings staggered home as the injury bug decimated their ranks. Besides Peja, Miller broke his leg, and Cuttino Mobley—picked up in a January trade—busted a toe. Still, Sacramento won 50 times. Everyone made it back for the playoffs, but the Kings were out of sync for their first-round meeting with red-hot Ray Allen and the Sonics. Seattle trounced Sacramento in five games, wasting a great Game 5 performance from Peja, who netted 38 in a losing cause. He wound up with a team high 110 points for the series.

Despite five straight 50-win seasons, the Kings are in disarray as they consider the 2005-06 campaign. It is still unclear how all the new faces will mix in with the old, whose injuries are serious and who’s aren’t, and what the roster will look like come the fall. Barring a trade, Peja will be the focal point of the offense once again, and as such he will likely spend the summer working on his post-up game, and maybe add a couple of new moves to his repertoire.

How far Peja takes Sacramento from here is anyone’s guess. Chemistry has long been the Kings’ strong point, so they must be given the benefit of the doubt as they recobble their roster. With good depth and developing talent, the Kings may yet score another 50-win campaign. And who knows? With a big free agent signing and Peja bombing away from the outside, the Kings could turn out to be a royal pain come playoff time.

Career highlights and awards

Greek League MVP (1998)
EuroBasket MVP (2001)
3x European Player of the Year:
Euroscar Award winner (2001)
2× Mister Europa Player of the Year (2001–2002)
3× NBA All-Star (2002–2004)
2× NBA Three-Point Shootout champion (2002–2003)
All-NBA Second Team (2004)


PERSONAL:

Full name is Predrag Stojakovic...nickname is "Peja"…son of Miodrag and Branka Stojakovic...has a wife, Alexandra, a son, Andrej, and a daughter, Mila…spends off-season in Greece...became a Greek citizen in 1993 because teams from his native Yugoslavia were not allowed to play in European Cup games...won the NBA Community Assist Award for the month of December of 2008…founded the Stojakovic Children’s Foundation in 2003, with the focus of assisting local youth as well as those living in Balkan countries who suffer from displacement and a poor quality of life…the foundation’s efforts have been extended throughout the countries of Serbia, Montenegro and Greece...hosts an annual summer youth basketball camp in Folsom with former teammate Vlade Divac…worked as a counselor and coach during the summer in 2002 and 2003 at the Basketball Without Borders camp in Istanbul...co-hosted a 1999 Christmas Toy Drive in Sacramento with Vlade Divac, which resulted in the collection of 10,000 gifts that were shipped to Serbia for Christmas...filmed a commercial in his native Serbian and Greek languages in 2000 for the NBA, speaking out against the use of violence and advising children of the dangers of smoking...raised $60,000 at his second annual Charitabowl for the Peja Stojakovic Children’s Foundation (www.peja16.com) in December 2008 proceeds will benefit Peja’s “Courts for Kids” project….has dedicated four basketball/volleyball courts in economically disadvantaged areas around the world… helped with a Feed the Children drop in Cut-Off, La….hosted a court unveiling at Iberville Boys & Girls Club in New Orleans…visited patients in the Oschner Hospital pediatrics floor with teammate Hilton Armstrong…provides tickets to underprivileged youth with his player ticket group, the “Peja’s 3-Point Club.”

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