If you’re able to vividly remember the first season in Toronto Raptors history, you’re probably feeling pretty old watching the Raptors organization celebrate 20 years of basketball in Toronto. However being able to remember that season means that you may also remember a player by the name of Zan Tabak.
Zan Tabak was an original Raptor. He rocked the retro purple uniforms before they were considered retro. Although he played here for a mere two and a half seasons (traded away to Boston in the Chauncey Billups deal) he’s a Raptor that shouldn’t be forgotten.
Tabak’s time in Toronto is also noteworthy because he was the first international player to play for the team. Vincenzo Esposito was technically the first European signed to the team, but Tabak was the first European to play for the Toronto Raptors organization.
Apart from his time with Toronto, Tabak’s career was a lot longer and more successful than six NBA seasons would suggest.
He started playing professionally in Europe at the age of 15. There he won three European championships with his Yugoslavian team Jugoplastica Split before entering the NBA and later played for the Yugoslavian National team. The Yugoslavian national team was loaded with young talent from Vlade Divac and Drazen Petrovic to Dino Radja and Toni Kukoc. The team at that time was arguably the best international team of all time. In their prime maybe even better than the Dream Team.
On a side note, do yourself a favour and check out the 30 for 30 documentary “Once Brothers“, It chronicles the rise of the Yugoslavian national team and the eventual split of both the country and the national team during the 1990’s. It is quite possibly one of the best sports documentaries out there – brilliant and powerful stuff.
While Tabak was not the focus of that documentary, he was a key member of that Yugoslavian team and later the Croatian team, along with Petrovic, Radja and Kukoc that won numerous international medals including the silver medal at the 1992 Barcelona Olympics.
Zan Tabak didn’t score many points or pull down many boards, but he was a serviceable big man and the Raptors first legitimate 7-footer. He averaged a modest 8PPG and 5REB during his first season and didn’t produce much more than that over his next two seasons. He was a big body in the paint and helped spread the floor for Damon Stoudamire. He knew his role on the team and did the little things he was asked to help his team get better – like a rich man’s Aaron Gray. Tabak was a solid veteran to have around a group of mostly younger players on an expansion club.
Tabak also had another thing going for him. He had an incredible flat-top haircut. It was seriously awesome. The only thing better than Tabak’s hair might have been Rod Black’s moustache in this clip from the first ever Raptor game. Both are on display in this video.
Tabak also managed to win an NBA championship in his rookie season with the Houston Rockets (backing up another former Raptor – Hakeem Olajuwon) . He would later appear in another NBA Finals with the Indiana Pacers.
Tabak would return to Europe after his NBA playing days were over and (interestingly enough) played alongside former Raptor Jorge Garbajosa – who would join Toronto a year later in 2006.
After his playing days Tabak coached in Europe, mostly in Spain , but also had a brief stint with the Knicks as an International scout and summer league coach. He is currently an assistant coach with Real Madrid in Spain where he coaches former NBA players Rudy Fernandez, Sergio Rodriguez, Andres Nocioni and Gustavo Ayon.
Though he didn’t make a significant impact on the history of the Toronto Raptors, he was an original Raptor and the first in a long line of European players to call Toronto home.