Predrag Stojakovic, commonly called Peja Stojakovic, is one of the most popular and successful professional basketball players to come out of Serbia in the history of the sport. Peja, a small forward born in Croatia, to Serbian parents, had a tumultuous childhood as his family was busy trying to escape the Yugoslav wars. Fleeing to Belgrade, Peja grew up with a love for basketball, making his way into the professional league with Red Star Belgrade.
In 1992-93, Peja had his first professional season with Red Star and his ability was unmistakably blatant as he led the team to the 1992-93 national championships. He moved to Greece in 1994 and became a Greek citizen, joining PAOK BC the same year.
Stojakovic was a humungous asset to PAOK BC and in his five seasons with the team, had many memorable moments including a match-winning last-second three-pointer that gave PAOK the win over arch-rivals Olympiacos during the semi-finals of the Playoffs. The win ended a five-year consecutive title winning run for Olympiacos as the champions of Greece and led PAOK to second place in the championships that season. In 1998, his final year with PAOK BC, Peja averaged 23.9 points per game with 4.9 rebounds and 2.5 assists while stealing at 1.2 per game.
Peja Stojakovic had already declared for the 1996 NBA Draft, while still playing for PAOK BC in Greece. After being signed at 14th overall, by the Sacramento Kings, Stojakovic was sent back to PAOK BC to continue playing there and gaining in experience. The Kings finally decided to bring him on before the 1998-99 lockout-marred season in the NBA.
Peja had two seasons on the bench, playing just 48 games in 1998-99 and 74 in 1999-2000. His figures were pretty average until the 2000-01 season when the world was introduced to the real Peja Stojakovic.
Starting all 75 games he played in 2000-01, Stojakovic was named second in the race for the 2001 Most Improved Player Award after ending the season with 20.4 points per game and 5.8 rebounds per game. His shooting from behind the arc stood at .400 and his playing time was at 38.7 minutes per game.
In 2001-02, Stojakovic was available for just 71 games, due to injury, however he played impressively at 21.2 points per game with 2.5 assists (a career-high) and 5.3 rebounds per game. He was .416% from behind the arc while his field goal % stood at a career-high .484. These numbers were impressive enough to get him into the NBA All-Star Game, his first of three successive appearances. He won the first of his two 3-point shooting contest titles at the 2002 NBA All-Star Weekend.
In 2002-03, his scoring average dropped to 19.2 however Peja had developed as a 3-point specialist and his skill was there for all to see as he went on to win the 3-point shooting contest at the All-Star Weekend. His second appearance at the All-Star Game came in 2002-03 while his third came in 2003-04 after a career-high 24.2 points per season performance. In the same year, Peja also had career highs in rebounds (6.3 per game) and steals (1.3 per game) along with 81 starts in 81 games and 40.3 minutes per game.
Peja was fourth in the 2003-04 MVP race and was named to the All-NBA Second Team. His .933 free throw percentage was the best in the NBA that season as were his 240 3-pointers.
In 2004-05, Peja missed 16 games due to injury but still had a 20.1 points per game average for the year, his last complete season with the Kings. After 31 games in 2005-06 for the Kings, Stojakovic moved to the Indiana Pacers in exchange for Ron Artest, in January 2006. Despite matching his career-high stats in rebounding, Peja failed to help the team past the first round of the playoffs after missing all 4 first-round games against the New Jersey Nets.
At the end of the season, Stojakovic was re-signed by the Pacers but the signing was considered to be a way to get something in exchange when Peja was traded out instead of being made a free agent. Peja was traded out to the New Orleans/Oklahoma City Hornets in exchange for the draft rights to Andrew Betts. Stojakovic just played 13 games that season after being hit by multiple injuries. But before being sidelined, Peja managed to hit a career-high 42 points against the Charlotte Bobcats and became the first player in the history of the NBA to open a game with 20 straight points for his team.
Over the next two seasons, Stojakovic continued to be a regular starter for the Hornets although his contribution to the team, in terms of scoring, fell. He dropped to 16.4 points per game in 2007-08 and then to 13.3 points, his lowest since his second season in the NBA.
At the international level Peja has been a regular part of the Serbian national team, leading the team to the 2001 European Championship Gold Medal and the 2002 FIBA World Championship Gold Medal. He was also part of the team when they won the Bronze Medal at the 1999 European Championships.
In 2001, Peja was named as the Eurobasket MVP as well as the Euroscar Player of the Year. He won the Mister Europa Player of the Year twice, in 2001 and then again in 2002.
On an individual level, Peja has numerous statistical records in the NBA:
• Three-pointers made: 4th (All-Time) with 1,571• Free-Throw Percentage: 4th (All-Time) with .8944• Free-Throw Percentage (Playoffs): 6th overall at .903