Peja Stojakovic’s 39th birthday is today. That’s a fairly arbitrary news peg, especially for a player who only made three All-Star teams and one All-NBA team, but Stojakovic is not just some Guy To Remember, a half-forgotten name to recall and then move on from.
He was a refugee at a young age whom the threat of ethnic violence forced out of Croatia and to Belgrade, and a professional basketball player soon after, at 15—a career he’d stick with for 19 years. Stojakovic is most famous for being the second banana on those fun, doomed Kings teams from a decade ago and he stuck around the league until 2011, when he managed to carve out a role as a deadly floor-spacer for the Dallas Mavericks, helping them win one of the most unlikely titles of the past 20 years. Historically speaking, he’s no more than a bit player, but he’s one of my favorites. And lest we forget, he was the shit.
By 2011, Stojakovic was almost exclusively a shooter. For a 6-foot-8 dude, Stojakovic had a beautiful stroke. He didn’t have a quick release, and the way he bent his knees and levered his elbow certainly looked anything but effortless. But he always snapped his hand into a perfect gooseneck, and he was tall enough that he’d try flicking his shots off in front of anyone. When he got hot, he seemed blissfully unaware of or uninterested in any possible defensive pressure, like an oversized dad who jogged around the court and couldn’t miss.
Stojakovic was not, however, just a shooter, as this assist—one of the most outrageous dimes in NBA history—to Bobby Jackson serves as proof of.
After Chris Webber’s knee died in the 2003 playoffs, Stojakovic stepped up and had arguably the best offensive 2003-2004 season of anyone in the NBA. He led the league in offensive win shares, was second in points per game, second in effective field goal percentage, and finished fourth in MVP voting. The team was when 44-14 when Webber came back, and what was a hyperkinetic basketball team bludgeoning the Western Conference in his absence sagged and burst under the pressure of trying to reincorporate their leader. The Kings were always at their best when Webber was the focal point, but that season Stojakovic proved that a team built around him could be pretty damn good, as well.
Here, enjoy some highlights.