Posted Jun 2 2005 7:57PM
On and off the court, Vlade Divac and Peja Stojakovic make a difference
His basketball legacy will transcend any on-court accomplishments. Whenever Vlade Divac decides to officially retire from the NBA, the 7-1 Serbian native will be remembered for more than being this era's best passing big man or the former Laker, Hornet and King who played 16 or so seasons in the NBA and scored more than 13,000 points and pulled down nearly 10,000 rebounds. Or the man who had the unenviable task of succeeding six-time NBA MVP Kareem Abdul-Jabbar at center and in only his second NBA season played a key role along with Magic Johnson in helping the Los Angeles Lakers reach the 1991 NBA Finals. No, whenever Divac decides to retire, the statistics simply won't do him justice. His impact off the court looms much larger than the 11.8 and 8.2 scoring and rebound averages.
"I'm blessed to have a chance to help," said Divac, who was only the second European in the NBA along with the New Jersey Nets' Drazen Petrovic when he arrived in 1989. "I feel like that's my mission, because I have more than I need. When you play basketball it keeps your mind here, until you finish and go back into real life."
Divac's mission first took hold in the early '90s when his home country, Yugoslavia, was ravaged by war and ethnic violence which spread through Serbia, Bosnia, Croatia, Kosovo, Montenegro and Albania.
"I came from a country where, right after I left, the country was turned upside down," said Divac. "When I grew up there, it was probably the most beautiful country in the world. Wonderful people. Then in one year everything collapsed. You can't tell me it was the people who did that. They lived there for 60, 70 years in peace. It was the bad decisions of politicians that did it. People were naïve. And now they need help. And I am glad to do it."
Divac along with six members of the Yugoslavian National Team — Aleksandar Djordevic, Zeljko Rebraca, Predrag Danilovic, Zarko Paspalj, Dejan Bodiroga and Zoran Savic — formed Group Seven Children's Foundation, an organization aimed to assist the children suffering from the isolation, poverty and displacement inherent to the break-up of a country.
"What I've tried to do, I've tried to help the kids that live in that bad environment. They were in the war and they lost parents," said Divac. "Or even here in America, I try to help kids that live in that same kind of environment."
According to the International Orthodox Christian Charities, Inc., more than 500,000 people have been displaced by the wars in Yugoslavia with an estimated 45,000 living in refugee shelters, which is why Group Seven teamed with the IOCC in supplying school kits and clothing drives. Both organizations also recently delivered supplies to the Tsunami victims.
Divac and his former Sacramento Kings teammate Peja Stojakovic led a group of NBA players to Treviso, Italy as part of the NBA's Basketball Without Borders program where they led 50 kids, many of whom haven't been together since Yugoslavia was split up, in a basketball camp where an emphasis on education and the dangers of drugs played key roles. The duo also served as counselors at the Basketball Without Borders camp in Istanbul, Turkey as well.
"We had kids at the camps from countries that don't get along, and it was great to see them make friends and forget about their problems," said Stojakovic, whose Children Foundation helps provides clothing, toys and supplies to kids in Serbia-Montenegro, Greece and Sacramento.
Divac and Stojakovic may not play on the same team any more but that hasn't prevented the two from continuing their charitable efforts. This summer, Divac and Stojakovic will team up for the Peja and Vlade Basketball Camp on July 18 in Folsom, Calif., and also partner with Andrei Kirilenko of the Utah Jazz for their sixth annual charity golf outing in Oak Brook, Ill., on July 15.
Divac understands the important role NBA players serve as role models, especially overseas.
"Knowing that basketball is very popular in Europe, I know that when I was a kid I tried to look up to so many NBA stars, now I can see how we can really do it and be right there for them and show them the right direction."