1 July 2021 – Dario Šarić has become the fifth Croatian basketball player to reach the NBA Finals
Šarić reached the finals with the Phoenix Suns after they defeated the Los Angeles Clippers 4-2 in the NBA Western Conference Finals. It will be the third final for the Suns, after losing their previous two.
The Phoenix Suns last played in the final in 1993, when they were led by Charles Barkley, but lost to Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls in six games. Before that, they also lost the final to the Boston Celtics in 1976, also in six games.
Šarić and the Suns will play either the Atlanta Hawks or the Milwaukee Bucks in the Finals. They are currently tied at two games apiece in the best-of-seven Eastern Conference finals.
Before Šarić, the only other Croatians to play in the NBA Finals were Dražen Petrović, Toni Kukoč, Žan Tabak and Ante Žižić.
The first Croatian basketball player to reach the NBA Finals was Petrović in 1990 with the Portland Trail Blazers. Portland lost to the Detroit Pistons 4-1 in the final.
After Dražen, Žan Tabak played with the Houston Rockets in the final in 1995 and won it. Tabak didn’t play many minutes, as he was a replacement for Hakeem Olajuwon. Houston beat Orlando 4-0 in the final. Interestingly, Tabak was the second European basketball player ever to win an NBA ring. He was also the first international player to play in the NBA Finals for two teams.
The season before him, Slovak Richard Petruška won the title, also in a Houston jersey. Tabak also made it to the finals with the Indiana Pacers in 2000 where they were defeated by the LA Lakers.
Toni Kukoč played an important role in the Chicago Bulls with whom he won three consecutive championship titles (1996-1998). Ante Žižić was the last Croatian, reaching the finals with Cleveland in 2018. Cleveland would lose 4-0 though to the Golden State Warriors.