Monday, December 19, 2011
Peja Stojakovic to retire after 13 years
By Marc Stein
After cementing his reputation as one of the finest shooters in NBA history by helping the Dallas Mavericks win their first championship, Peja Stojakovic has decided to retire after 13 seasons.
The three-time All-Star told ESPN.com on Monday that the physical toll involved in playing after a string of back and neck troubles, at age 34, convinced him that "it's time" to step away from the game despite interest from a handful of contenders in signing the sharpshooter away from the Mavericks.
"When you start competing against your body more than you're preparing for the actual game," Stojakovic said, "it's a wakeup call."
Stojakovic does have the privilege of leaving the sport after nearly 20 years as a pro on an unquestioned high, thanks to some standout moments during the maiden title run in Mavericks history.
He scored 15 points and 21 points in home victories over the Los Angeles Lakers that sealed a second-round sweep over the then-defending champions, including a 6-for-6 performance from 3-point range in the Game 4 rout that eliminated L.A. and gave Stojakovic a measure of vengeance in the wake of the Sacramento Kings' bitter seven-game loss to the Lakers in the 2002 Western Conference finals.
But Stojakovic had to grit through persistent neck trouble in March -- believed to be related to his longstanding back woes -- just to work his way back into Rick Carlisle's playoff rotation.
He leaves the NBA with career averages of 17 points and 40-percent shooting from 3-point range, ranking fourth all-time with 1,760 careers 3s made after establishing himself as an All-Star with the Kings and later playing with the Indiana Pacers, New Orleans Hornets and Mavericks.
After breaking into the pro game at 14 with Red Star Belgrade, Stojakovic also starred in the Greek League with PAOK and helped the Serbian national team, then playing as Yugoslavia, win championships at the 2001 Eurobasket tournament and the 2002 World Championships in Indianapolis.
Stojakovic quickly grew close with Mavericks star forward Dirk Nowitzki in their short time as teammates. Reflecting on the January arrival of his longtime former Kings and national-team rival, Nowitzki said: "The first time I saw him at practice shooting, I knew his stroke was still sick."
Stojakovic confirmed that he does plan to be in Dallas later in the season when the Mavericks receive their championship rings.
Because Mavericks owner Mark Cuban could not have contact with his players during the summer, delaying the ring design until the lockout ended this month, Dallas can only raise its championship banner on Christmas Day before it plays host to Miami in the season opener and will have a separate ring ceremony before a game to be determined.
In a statement, NBA commissioner David Stern said: "Peja will go down as one of the great shooters in the history of the NBA. His success was the result of a tireless work ethic and an unquenchable desire to be the best at what he did. Peja's legacy, however, goes way beyond his 3-point skills and that elusive Finals title he won last season with the Dallas Mavericks. Peja was part of the wave of international stars that helped introduce the world to the NBA game and inspired thousands of fans to begin playing the sport of basketball."
Drafted No. 14 overall by Sacramento in 1996, Stojakovic stayed in Greece with PAOK until the lockout-shortened season in 1999. He made three straight trips to the All-Star Game as a King in 2002, 2003 and 2004, won consecutive titles in the NBA's 3-point contest in 2002 and 2003 and finished second in the NBA in scoring in 2003-04 by averaging 24.2 points per game.
Stojakovic also holds the distinction of becoming the first player in NBA history to start a game by scoring the first 20 points for his team, pulling that off for New Orleans on Nov. 19, 2006, against the Charlotte Bobcats.
In his short time as a Maverick, Stojakovic's familiar two fingers-and-a-thumb salute after 3-pointers -- regarded as a gesture of Serbian pride back home -- was quickly adopted by several Mavs, most notably Nowitzki.
The salute is so ingrained in Mavericks culture that newly acquired Lamar Odom, quickly fitting in with his new team, flashed the same three digits at Nowitzki after making a couple 3s in his Dallas debut Sunday night in a preseason loss to Oklahoma City.
In a statement issued Monday night, Stojakovic said: "I feel so blessed to have been given the athletic gifts to play professional basketball. I have always loved the game and have great respect for it and I know the time is right to step away. I promised myself a long time ago, if it came to the point where my heart and body were not 100 percent committed, I would step away. I have reached that point and I know the time is right to retire.
"I want to thank the great fans in Sacramento, Indiana, New Orleans, and Dallas who supported me throughout the years," Stojakovic continued. "I also want to thank the Dallas Mavericks for believing in me this past season and for giving me the chance to end my NBA career with a championship."
It became apparent to friends over the summer that Stojakovic was leaning toward retirement when he began to increasingly immerse himself in the field of solar energy with a company, Global Energy Services Ltd., which he founded.
"I look forward to taking some time to spend with my wife, Aleka, and my three children," Stojakovic said in the statement. "I will slowly figure out the next steps in my life and determine what my second career will be. I'm sure I will stay involved in basketball in general and the NBA in particular."
Marc Stein is a senior NBA writer for ESPN.com.