Vlade Divac: Uniting Through Hoops
Just two years after Vlade Divac was drafted by the Lakers in 1989, a complex war broke out in his homeland of the former Yugoslavia that continued until 1995, the effects of the conflict lasting to this day.
Throughout years of hardship, it's long been a goal of the former Lakers' center to use basketball as a way to unite children from his native land*, a mission he has successfully navigated through the NBA's Basketball Without Borders program often as a coach/counselor.
*In addition to Divac's birthplace of Serbia, the former Yugoslavia includes the states of Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Macedonia, Montenegro and Slovenia.
Divac played an essential role in the creation of the first camp for kids from the Balkans that was held in Italy in 2001, which was the start of the BWB program that has subsequently grown in basketball development and community outreach through over 27 worldwide camps. This past week in Slovenia, the westernmost of the former Yugoslav states, Divac was on hand to again spread a message of connectivity through hoops.
"It's great for me to be with kids from the area I came from," said Divac over the phone from Slovenia. "Basketball is very popular here, the number one sport in some places; given the history of the last 15 or 20 years with so many NBA players coming from this area, sharing our experiences with these kids is very rewarding. Maybe some of these kids will be future NBA players."
Divac was the first of his countrymen to come to the NBA, which at the time was a far, far more difficult task than it is today for the plethora of international players that have integrated into the league. Yet Divac says his transition was among the best and easiest of any foreign player at the time.
"I am so thankful to the Lakers, because they were so patient and willing to help me make that transition easier," he said. "That was probably the reason I had a much easier transition than my teammates on the national team. Jerry West really helped a lot, and so did players like Magic Johnson. That's why, at the end of my career, I wanted to finish my career with the Lakers."
In Slovenia, many of the questions Divac fielded from the group of youngsters dealt with his experience in the NBA: What was it like to play with Magic? How about Michael Jordan? What do I need to do to make it in the NBA one day?
"They're all good kids," Divac concluded. "Their dream is to make it to the NBA, so having me or other former professionals there, it makes it seem like a possibility."
Hopefully, the kids are talking and dreaming about basketball, and not about states of the former Yugoslavia to which they are ethnically bound.
Just as Divac intended.