BallinEurope sends out hearty congratulations to Serbian great Vlade Divac on his nomination for possible entry into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame’s “Class of 2012.”
While Divac may be known as a famous trivia answer (“Who was traded for Kobe Bryant?”) or by the dreaded “F-word” (i.e. “flopper” as used in – really – this Los Angeles Times blog entry detailing the story of Vlade’s honor), this nomination shows a lifetime of accomplishment on the basketball court. Heck, in the NBA alone, Divac topped 13,000 points, 9000 rebounds, 3000 assists and 1500 blocked shots over 16 seasons. And then there were those “Dream Team” years with Team Yugoslavia and the glorious early days with KK Partizan in the 1980s, highlighted by Korać Cup titles and Divac’s “Mr. Europa” trophy.
Today, BallinEurope pays tribute to a personal favorite on the occasion in the best way possible: With a YouTube-laden rundown of his long and memorable career! Check out Divac’s progress through turns with Partizan Belgrade, the Los Angeles Lakers, Sacramento Kings, the “Dream Team” Yugoslavian squads, and of course KK Crvena Zvezda during the 1999 NBA player lockout…
• Divac broke into the professional level at 18 years old with KK Sloga Kraljevo and early on contributed 27 points in a game against Crvena Zvezda. At this time, Divac first played with the Yugoslavian national team, ultimately to become an integral part of those monstrous Team Yugoslavia sides which would also feature the likes of Drazen Petrovic, Toni Kukoc and Dino Radja.
• From 1986 through 1989, Divac was with KK Partizan. Teaming with players such as Aleksandar Đorđević, Žarko Paspalj, Željko Obradović, Milenko Savović and Goran Grbović, coach Duško Vujošević’s teams carved a spot among the top teams on the Continent. In these years, Partizan took three Korać Cups, including one over Kukoc’s Euroleague champion KK Split team; won one Yugoslavian national title and one Yugoslavian Cup; and finished third in 1988 in Euroleague, the same year Divac was named European Player of the Year by FIBA.
Below runs some rare footage of the 1988 and ’89 Yugoslavian finals – yep, sonny, we once recorded TV on this device called the VCR…
• Just for the heck of it, here’s a profile piece on Divac from Belgrade news and thus in Serbian only. Well worth a brief view for at least the awesome retro look and the oddity of seeing Divac *that young.*
(Incidentally, if any Serbian-speakers can tell us about anything being discussed in this clip, BallinEurope would much appreciate it.)
• Having enjoyed three years in international play, Divac would amass Olympic silver, plus EuroBasket gold and bronze medals before even suiting up for the Los Angeles Lakers at the age of 23 in 1989.
• Despite what some informal revisionists might have you think, Lakers fans weren’t exactly 100% unanimous in confidence in their new foreign player – particularly with the act Divac had to follow – in those days when Europeans comprised a tiny fraction of NBA rosters. On a personal note, this Laker fan distinctly remembers (still!) the line from one beat writer in the preseason which ran, “Going from Kareem Abdul-Jabbar is like trading in a Cadillac for a Yugo.”
Nevertheless, Divac soon stilled the haters (What term did we use back then? “Detractors,” maybe?) in compiling some decent stats in his rookie season with Pat Reilly’s guys, going for 8.5 points, 6.2 rebounds and 1.4 blocks in 19.6 minutes per game. Though almost never in the starting lineup, Divac appeared in all 82 games and displayed an awesome skill set.
• Unfortunately (and somewhat ironically) for him, Divac’s sole appearance in the NBA Finals would come in his first as a starter. Of course, that 1990-91 Lakers team was dismantled by the insurgent Chicago Bulls, losing four games to one. And when Magic bowed out of basketball in November of ’91, Los Angeles would not become a force in the league again until … well, we’ll get to that.
• Meanwhile, geopolitics was happening. Team Yugoslavia finally hit its peak in the years 1989 to ’91, sandwiching EuroBasket titles with the huge gold-medal win at the 1990 FIBA World Championship; Divac’s controversial interaction with a Croatian fan immediately following the final game triggered the events documented most extensively and excellently documented in the ESPN-produced “Once Brothers.”
Due to civil war, Team Yugoslavia no longer existed as before in 1992, but Divac would stay with the team for years to come…
• Back in the NBA, Divac’s most fateful day came in 1996 when he was traded by the Lakers to the Charlotte Hornets for the draft rights to Kobe Bryant – also implying that Los Angeles would also soon be signing the free-agent prize that offseason, Shaquille O’Neal …
• By the way, all this stuff about NBA players in Europe during a lockout is nothing new: Divac played two games with KK Crvena Zvezda in 1999…
• In a way, the exit from the Lakers would ultimately be both a blessing in disguise and his career’s biggest frustration. After two years playing out his contract in Charlotte, Divac joined the Sacramento Kings of Chris Webber and Peja Stojakovic. The teams would form quite the feud while the Lakers were winning titles in the 2000s, though the Kings could never quite top their California rivals in the playoffs.
• The frustration may be best encapsulated by – look away now, Sacramento fans! – that game-winning shot by Robert Horry in game four of the 2002 Western Conference finals. Said Vlade, “It was a lucky shot.” Retorted Horry: “I don’t know, maybe he said read a ‘paper or something.”
• Still with the national team at the turn of the millennium, Divac was now with a Team Yugoslavia drawing on a smaller pool of talent but almost as preeminent in international ball in the early 2000s. BiE sticks by his assessment of the 2001-02 Teams Yugoslavia as the top European national team of that decade: “In 2002, the Yugoslavian team slammed the door on American preeminence in basketball forever. And this was after breezing through Eurobasket 2001, winning five of six games by double-digit margins. Yugoslavia was the only country to take golds at Eurobasket and FIBA World competitions with (basically) the same team; the 2002 roster included Dejan Bodiroga, Peja Stojakovic, Marko Jaric, Dejan Milojevic, Vlade Divac and Vladimir Radmanovic, a roster good enough to merit mention among a discussion of greatest basketball teams ever assembled, period.”
• Returning to the Lakers for 2004-05 in largely a ceremonial capacity, Divac retired at the end of that season, but the accolades continued. He’s in the FIBA Hall of Fame and on the 50 Greatest Euroleague Contributors list; in 2009, he was named Serbia Olympic Committee president. And naturally the Kings retired his jersey.
As for the “flopping” thing, well, the video directly below shows he’s got a sense of humor about things. A Hall of Fame-level sense of humor, perhaps … we’ll have to wait until February to hear if Divac enters the hallowed halls in Springfield, but until then, BiE thanks him for the memories.