Stojko Vrankovic, 1999 Upper Deck
One of my favorite things about this card is not the ballet-like athleticism of a Croatian guy named “Stojko” jamming it home with, pretty much, one foot on the ground. No, my favorite part of this card is its nod to “The Natural,” as you may notice an out-of-focus fat man in white standing up in the background, a la Glen Close in one of the more famous scenes from the Robert Redford-flick. Of course, contrary to what the rest of the Clippers’ home crowd may be indicating, it’s extremely difficult to sit down when Stojko Vrankovic is on the floor, as evidenced by the fact that, even the other players on the court seem content to stand and watch Stojko thrown down yet another emphatic dunk. But the fat man in white is on to something, for he knows Stojko all too well. Not from a romantic standpoint, we would hope, but from a basketball standpoint. You see, the fat man in white is Hedjuec Steponapolis, Stojko’s Croatian AAU coach since the youngster was just four months old (and 5’11”). Hedjuec taught Stojko everything he knew about the sport of basketball, including the box-and-one, and why the Reebok “Pumps” were a total sham. When Stojko decided that he was going to leave his native Croatia to star for the American basketball powerhouse Los Angeles Clippers, Hedjuec had no real choice but to accompany him, if, for no other reason, to show him where he could get decent asparagus. But, amazingly, Stojko initially struggled in the NBA, finding himself at a distinct disadvantage despite his arm hair and 13.8 40-yard dash speed. During the third quarter of another miserable performance, in which he was 1-for-19 from the floor and just got dunked on by Dwayne Schintzius, Stojko was jogging back down the floor when a figure in white stood up in the stands. It was Hedjuec Steponapolis, showing support for his protégé. Hedjuec started a chant: “Stojko, Stojko, STOJKO!” The other fans, recognizing this as sarcasm, joined in immediately, at which point Stojko had flashbacks of his greatness in Croatia, and began dominating the game with an array of awkward sky-hooks and one-handed slams, one which culminated with a slow-motion, backboard-breaking jam that sent chards of glass flying everywhere while he
Did you know?
Stojko Vrankovic could change a light bulb with his chin.