Sports uniforms are powerful things. They take people of different races, nationalities, religions, economic backgrounds and political viewpoints and unify them as if members of one harmonious family. They convince fans to cheer for despicable people (Michael Vick in Philadelphia, Barry Bonds in San Francisco, etc) and to embrace athletes they once despised (Brett Favre in Minnesota). They let Americans know who to care about every Olympics or World Cup. They even create a genuine camaraderie among otherwise dissimilar fans who root for the same set of laundry. But for all the times that uniforms bring people together in previously unthinkable ways (think: Jackie Robinson and the 1947 Brooklyn Dodgers), there's a limit to a uniform's bond. Once Brothers, the latest installment in ESPN Films' "30 for 30" documentary series, is the story of men who were first united by the blue and white jerseys of Yugoslavia's national basketball team, only to be torn apart by that country's civil war.
More specifically, the film is about Vlade Divac and Drazen Petrovic, who were strangers, who became teammates, who became roommates, who became friends, who became standout NBA players, who became estranged. Once brothers, then enemies—their unity through the Yugoslavian national team and their immigrant experiences in America shattered by a war that redefined them according to their Serbian and Croatian roots. It's a heartbreaking story, one that feels as if it should have been preventable at the same time that it seems utterly unavoidable, and it's a credit to the filmmaker that we leave the documentary understanding and respecting the emotions and actions of both men. Once Brothers is directed by Michael Tolajian, but it comes from the heart of Divac, who narrates the film while retracing his steps from the quiet Serbian town where he was born, to the gym where the Yugoslavian national team trained, to the hotel in Los Angeles that was his first American home, to the streets of downtown Zagreb in Croatia, where Divac hadn't set foot since before war broke out in 1991. Other documentaries in the "30 for 30" series have felt deeply personal to the people making them (perhaps most notably The Band That Wouldn't Die and No Crossover), but no "30 for 30" film does a better job of personalizing the story from the perspective of one of its principal subjects. We don't just understand Divac's story, we experience it through him.
To read the rest of the review at The Cooler, click here.