If you have listened to any thrash metal there is no doubt you have heard the legendary band Kreator. Lead singer Mille Petrozza practically defined the riotous, violent German thrash sound. What many people don’t know about Petrozza is that before he was writing classic songs metal anthems like “Betrayer” he was a remarkable basketball player who won an NCAA championship ring with Michigan State.
Petrozza was a high school phenom in Germany. Standing 6 foot 1, Petrozza was an average-sized guard with extremely quick feet. Although he lacked an imposing physical stature he made up for it with a jump shot that could find net from nearly anywhere on the floor. Petrozza was recruited heavily by several major colleges, but eventually chose to play at Michigan State.
As a sophomore, Petrozza was the second leading scorer for a team that featured future Hall of Famer Magic Johnson. Magic remembers his time playing with Mille fondly. “Mille was a pure jump shooter. One of the best I’ve ever seen. I knew when I dished it off to him, I was pretty much guaranteed an assist.”
Petrozza was averaging 16 points and 7 rebounds a game going into the NCAA tournament when disaster struck. His knee gave out driving to the basket in a late season game against Indiana. Doctors said he might never play again. Michigan coach Jud Heathcote called a team meeting after the injury and remembered telling Magic “Mille’s down for the count. We might not get him back for the rest of the year. You are going to have to carry us.”
Magic stepped up and had a tournament for the ages. He carried the team to an improbable championship defeating the Larry Bird led Indiana State Sycamores 75-64. Mille got his ring, but was deeply disheartened by not being able to play. He never recovered his 1979 pre-injury form during his final two unexceptional seasons at Michigan State.
In the 1981 NBA Draft, Petrozza, who had once been projected a high first round pick, slipped to the 2nd round where he was nabbed by the Cleveland Cavaliers. Cleveland was terrible that year but Petrozza began to emerge as a budding star. He averaged 12 points a game and wowed other teams with his speed and intensity.
His most memorable moment was when he scored 39 points in the Boston Garden in a January game against the Celtics. Kevin McHale, the power forward for Boston remembers the performance well. “I thought to myself, I can’t believe we are going to have to play this guy every year. He’s unstoppable.”
Robert Parrish, the Celtics Center, remembers Petrozza as well. “Man, I had never seen anything like that guy. He dunked over me in the third quarter and he actually yelled out ‘PLEASURE……TO KILL!!!!!’ I was like ‘WHAT THE HELL?!?!?’”
Just when Petrozza seemed to be getting things together he was struck with another terrible injury. While guarding Julius Erving in a game at Philadelphia he slipped on a wet spot on the floor and his surgically repaired knee gave out. “I just felt the thing buckle,” recalls Petrozza. “I knew I was done.”
Petrozza retired nine months later after an unsuccessful attempt to return after surgery. He decided to devote his life to his other passion, music. He took the money he had saved from his NBA contract and used it to pay for the recording of the first Kreator record “Endless Pain”, a title he came up with to describe his knee troubles.
He never lost his love for the game. In fact, many of the Kreator songs and album titles have subtle basketball references in them. According to Petrozza, the album “Extreme Aggression” is actually a tribute to the press defense he ran at Michigan State.
Life has a funny way of moving people to where they are supposed to go. If Petrozza hadn’t had knee troubles he easily could have had a long successful career in the NBA, but then thrash as we know it would have been changed forever.
“I’m glad things turned out the way they did. I love playing thrash metal for thousands of screaming metal maniacs,” remarked Petrozza. “But sometimes when I’m alone at night in my study having a brandy I remember my old playing days. When I think of my basketball career, I can’t help but recall a quote from my favorite poet John Greenleaf Whittier “For all sad words of tongue and pen, The saddest are these, “It might have been’.”