Plenty of NBA players have struggled with drugs. Some, like the Celtics‘ 1986 draft pick, Len Bias, die from drug abuse before getting a chance to prove their worth in the NBA. And plenty of talented players, Roy Tarpley for instance, see promising careers cut short by substance abuse. Former Timberwolves center Nikola Pekovic also has a drug problem — with a twist.
Since the Minnesota franchise waived him in 2017, Pekovic has apparently embarked on a new career as a drug lord. Let’s look at his time in the NBA and unusual post-retirement career moves.
Nikola Pekovic’s NBA career
The Timberwolves chose Pekovic with the 31st pick of the 2008 NBA draft. At that point, he’d already been playing dominant pro ball in Europe for several years. In fact, many analysts felt he would’ve been taken sooner in the draft, were it not for his outstanding contract with a Greek league team.
That contract meant the 6-foot-11 big man from Montenegro didn’t make his NBA debut until the 2010 season. He played mostly backup minutes as a rookie, putting up modest averages of 5.5 points and three rebounds per game, details Basketball-Reference. The next season he entered the starting lineup, boosting his output to 13.9 points and 7.4 rebounds per game.
Those numbers rose over the next two seasons. Pekovic put up a career-high 17.5 points per game in the 2013-14 season. An ankle injury limited Pekovic the next year, before becoming a chronic problem from 2015 to 2017. Meanwhile, the Timberwolves drafted star center Karl-Anthony Towns in 2015. This made the decision to waive the ailing Pekovic an easy one.
Nikola Pekovic’s new identity as a drug lord
Even during his playing days, Pekovic was known to have ties to shady figures in Montenegro and Serbia. In particular, Pekovic was tied to the Darko Saric, one of the world’s most notorious drug lords. Pekovic had several business investments with Saric. In 2018, he even took a massive amount of debt for Saric’s brother Dusko.
Pekovic’s ties to the Saric brothers only grew stronger thanks to an incident that occurred shortly after his retirement from the NBA. At that time, reports Euro Hoops, Belgrade police seized a car with American license plates registered to Pekovic. Inside were both guns and drugs. Pekovic wasn’t in the car, but two close associates of the Saric brothers were.
For his part, Pekovic has never denied his ties to Serbian mobsters. In fact, at one point he even revealed that he was Dusko Saric’s child’s godfather. NBA fans may remember that Pekovic’s nickname in the league was “The Godfather” — and apparently for good reason.
Other drug dealers in the NBA
Pekovic isn’t the only former NBA player to have a career involving drugs. Yet his case is unusual in that he didn’t embark on his new path until after his playing days ended. Former star and NBA champion Caron Butler, by contrast, became a drug dealer at the young age of 11. After being arrested as a 15-year-old, Butler turned his life around and eventually became an NBA star.
Plenty of other NBA players from rough backgrounds might have ended up pursuing careers as drug dealers too. Last November, Clippers guard Patrick Beverly opened up about a different way his life might have gone as a young man growing up in Chicago. Beverly stated that he likely would have ended up selling drugs. He even said he “probably would’ve been the best drug dealer in the world.”