Why Kings' Vlade Divac's Hall of Fame enshrinement is long overdue


Why Kings' Vlade Divac's Hall of Fame enshrinement is long overdue

The Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame's International Committee has finally come to their senses. Sacramento Kings legend and current general manager Vlade Divac will be inducted for his contributions to the game of basketball.

Divac was part of a massive influx of European talent during the late 1980’s and early 90’s. Drafted by the Los Angeles Lakers with the 26th overall selection in the 1989 NBA Draft, he helped set the stage for the league's modern era.

A passing and ball-handling big with a flare for the dramatic, Divac was named to the NBA’s All-Rookie first-team in 1989 when he played 82 games for a 63-win Los Angeles team.

In 1996, the Lakers traded Divac to the Charlotte Hornets for the draft rights to a high-school star named Kobe Bryant. Divac spent the next two seasons playing for the Hornets before joining the Kings as a free agent during the lockout-shortened 1998-99 season.

Divac helped revitalize basketball in Sacramento. He was the glue that helped bond a talented Kings group who strung together an incredible run under coach Rick Adelman. Divac made his lone All-Star appearance during the 2000-01 season, and helped lead the Kings to the Western Conference Finals during the 2001-02 season.

The Serbian-born 7-footer is one of just seven players in NBA history to record more than 13,000 points, 9,000 rebounds, 3,000 assists and 1,500 blocks. The other seven players are either in the Hall of Fame, or likely will be heading there when they become eligible.

Divac concluded his 14-year NBA career following the 2004-05 season. He averaged 11.8 points, 8.2 rebounds and 3.1 assists over 1,134 regular season games.

While his NBA totals are very good, they only tell a small portion of Divac’s impact on the sport.

As a teenager, Divac joined a talented group of young stars on the Yugoslavian National team in 1988. Prior to the split of Yugoslavia, Divac, along with Dino Radja, Toni Kukoc, Drazen Petrovic and Zarko Paspalj, took the international stage by storm.

“It was a great group of guys that each other better,” Divac told ESPN on Saturday following the announcement. “A lot of those guys made it to the NBA.”

Yugoslavia made it all the way to the gold medal game in Seoul, Korea, before falling to Arvydas Sabonis, Sarunas Marciulionis and their Soviet Union teammates by a final of 76-63. This was only the beginning for this squad.

Over his time playing for either the Yugoslavian or Serbian national teams, Divac took home EuroBasket gold medals in 1989, 1991 and 1995, as well as gold medals at the FIBA World Championship in 1990 and 2002.

Divac’s play in the 1988 Olympics helped land him a job in the NBA. He was part of a foursome of European players -- including Paspalj, Marciulionis and Alexander Volkov -- who cracked into the league during the 1989-90 season and helped pave the way for a massive influx of players from overseas.

“We kind of opened the door for the international guys, now we have more than 25 percent international guys in the league,” Divac said. “We are very proud of our roots, but also basketball is a world sport and we are so happy that we have an impact on it.”

In addition to his accolades on the court, Divac spent eight years (2009-2016) as the President of the Serbian Olympic Committee, and his humanitarian work is legendary.

According to the Kings’ official press release:

“In 2000, Divac became the first foreign-born winner of the NBA’s J. Walter Kennedy Citizenship Award, recognizing his service and dedication to the community. Together with his wife Ana, Divac founded the Ana and Vlade Divac Foundation in 2007 to help refugees address housing needs, raising over $20 million and securing assistance for over 700,000 people. The Foundation is a continuation of their 30 years of humanitarian work, which began in the US with the Humanitarian Organization Divac.”

Divac rejoined the Kings 2015 as an executive and currently holds the role of General Manager. He’s helped rebuild the franchise over the last four years and with 39 wins coming onto Sunday, they have their best season since the 2005-06 season.

[RELATED: Ex-Kings coach Westphal makes Basketball Hall's 2019 class]

The 51-year-old big 7-footer turned to Twitter on Saturday morning to extend his gratitude towards everyone who helped make this possible.

Plenty of his former teammates and associates from around the league chimed in as well.

NBA rumors: Kings to get playoffs shot in potential Adam Silver plan

NBA rumors: Kings to get playoffs shot in potential Adam Silver plan

The Kings would get a chance to end their 13-year postseason drought in a proposal to restart the NBA season that reportedly is gaining momentum among the league's owners.

Sacramento would be one of 22 teams headed to Disney's ESPN Wide World of Sports just outside of Orlando in a plan that has "growing support," ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski and Ramona Shelburne reported Friday, citing sources. The Kings would also be included in a 20-team format that "remains alive," sources told ESPN.

Wojnarowski and Shelburne reported that the NBA will vote Thursday on a format to restart the season during a board of governors call. The league requires a three-fourths majority to approve any such plan, and the owners reportedly will vote with whichever format commissioner Adam Silver recommends.

The Kings were in the thick of a playoff chase when the NBA suspended its season on March 11 due to the coronavirus' spread, just 3.5 games back of the Western Conference's eighth and final playoff spot. Sacramento's game that night was supposed to the be the last before the league indefinitely shut its doors, but the New Orleans Pelicans -- the Kings' opponents that night -- were reluctant to take the court once they learned referee Courtney Kirkland had recently worked a Utah Jazz game. Jazz center Rudy Gobert's positive coronavirus test earlier that night prompted the league to suspend the season.

Teams that were within six games of the final playoff spots in each conference would be included in the 22-team format, according to Wojnarowski and Shelburne. The 20-team format reportedly would only include the top eight seeds in each conference and the four teams, including the Kings, within four games of the eighth seed. If the NBA opts to resume the season with 22 teams, there would be regular-season games and a play-in tournament "to compete for playoff berths in both the Eastern and Western Conference," Wojnarowski and Shelburne reported.

[RELATED: Karl rehashes Cousins meltdown, night Drake dropped by]

The Kings have gotten good news all week, with NBA general managers reportedly preferring by a wide margin a "Playoffs Plus" format to resume the season with 20 or more teams and their inclusion in all the formats gaining traction among the league's decision-makers. 

Sacramento could get even better -- and more official -- news next Thursday if either a 20- or 22-team format is approved.

George Karl recalls DeMarcus Cousins' Kings meltdown, night Drake came

George Karl recalls DeMarcus Cousins' Kings meltdown, night Drake came

Over the last decade, there have been plenty of awkward moments to report on while covering the Kings. Oftentimes, the events are stranger than fiction.

Just a few that stand out include the time co-owner George Maloof spoke to reporters from a bell check closet in a Dallas hotel during an NBA Board of Governors meeting. Neither the Q&A, nor the BOG meeting went well for Maloof.

There was an odd “Game of Thrones” opening night with purple orbs and people dressed in cloaks. DeMarcus Cousins was thrown out of a game and then summoned back from the locker room. And there was a time when Austin Rivers flung a seat cushion into the crowd, hitting an unsuspecting Kings fan in the face two rows above our media seating.

Out of all of the crazy moments, the short window that NBA legend George Karl coached the team during the 2014-15 and 2015-16 seasons stands out as particularly dark. Karl, who should already be in the Hall of Fame with his 1,175 career regular-season victories, lasted just 112 games in Sacramento and it was a disaster from the start.

On the latest edition of the Truth + Basketball podcast, Karl, as well as former Kings assistant Vance Walberg, open up about their time in Sacramento. The conversation included a deep dive into one extremely memorable moment that happened early in the 2015-16 season.

[PURPLE TALK PODCAST: Listen to the latest episode]

Karl was brought in to coach the Kings in February of 2015 after the team had already dispatched both Michael Malone and Tyrone Corbin. He posted an 11-19 record down the stretch and headed into the summer with another three years on his newly signed contract, but not before making a statement that put him on the hot seat.

“I’ve had some great players and I’ve never had one player that I have said is untradeable,” Karl told the Sacramento media at the time. “You always got to be ready for the possibility of a great trade that could come your way.”

That statement didn’t sit well with the players, specifically Cousins or his agent, who had issues with the coaching legend in the past. Karl would later apologize for the comment, but not before trying to move his star player during the summer, which Walberg confirmed during the taping of the podcast.

“The thought was maybe to try to do what we did in Denver when they flipped Carmelo, that changed Denver pretty big time,” Walberg explained. “See if there is somebody out there that would want to flip DeMarcus.”

According to Walberg, then general manager Pete D'Alessandro was in the room for the discussion. He would leave the Kings organization shortly thereafter and made it known, at least to his new employers in Denver, that Cousins was on the block.

The idea got out in the open, which tattered the relationship between Cousins and Karl before it ever really had a chance to get going. Cousins even turned to social media with an incredibly cryptic tweet aimed at his head coach.

Karl defended his decision during the interview. The Kings lacked talent and the idea was to potentially trade Cousins in a deal for multiple players that might help the team win.

“I didn’t want to trade Cousins, unless it made our basketball team better,” Karl explained. “That was my job. Make it better.”

When the Kings returned after the summer, there was tension dating all the way back to media day and the start of training camp. Despite an improved roster, with additions like Rajon Rondo, Marco Belinelli, Kosta Koufos, Caron Butler and rookie Willie Cauley-Stein, the Kings got off to a rough start.

[RELATED: Can Richaun Holmes and Marvin Bagley play together?]

After dropping eight of their first nine games, including an embarrassing 106-88 drubbing at home to the San Antonio Spurs on Nov. 9, the media was held outside the locker room for longer than usual.

We would find out afterward that minutes before the media was allowed in, Cousins had unloaded on Karl in dramatic fashion.

“As soon as [Karl] walks in DeMarcus just goes off, I mean, off,” Walberg explained. “Coach hasn’t even said a word and it’s ‘F you coach, you think you’re an F-ing Hall of Fame coach, all the hell you care about is your wins, you don’t give a s--t about us.’”

According to Walberg, the rant from Cousins went on for nearly a minute. When the coaching staff went to management the next day expecting a 3-5 game suspension, they instead walked away understanding that Cousins wouldn’t be punished and their days as a coaching staff in Sacramento were numbered.

When the media was finally let into the room that evening, it was clear that something had transpired. Players were grouped together in their locker stalls and the entire feel was different than usual. And then things got downright weird.

As we prepared to interview players, rap mogul Drake walked through a side door and into the locker room with owner Vivek Ranadivé and team executive Vlade Divac.

The surreal scene played out in real time, as Drake tried to work the room and greet a completely silent locker room. His arrival was not well-received by the players ,and lasted only a minute or two before Drake hugged Cousins and then left the building.

According to both Karl and Walberg, this was the beginning of the end for the coaching staff.

“It was probably the rudest, the worst I’ve ever seen of any game in my life, what happened in that locker room after we played San Antonio that night,” Walberg explained.

The next day, the coaching staff met up and expected the franchise to drop the hammer on their budding star.

“DeMarcus and I had a confrontation after the game and we meet the next morning and we have a long serious talk that we can turn this into a win,” Karl recalls. “Because we’ve got to suspend DeMarcus and whatever it is, for two or three games, and maybe he’ll wake up that he can’t be the boss. We went in and fought very hard that we had to suspend him.”

That’s not the direction the franchise chose to take. Instead, they sided with Cousins and allowed him to resume playing under Karl. The message was clear.

“How are you going to have control in the locker room when you’ve got a player that can say and do what he wants?” Walberg said.

Karl almost was relieved of his duties heading into the All-Star break that season. He survived in the short-term, but Divac let Walberg go before the team played another game.

“He knew he could divide the organization from the coach,” Karl said of Cousins. “Unfortunately, if he knew that, then the players knew that.”

Divac let Karl go following the 2015-16 season despite the coaching legend posting a 33-49 record, which was the franchise's best mark in more than a decade. The Kings also were forced to pay out the final two years on his contract.

Cousins remained with the Kings until the mid-way point of the 2016-17 season, when Divac traded him to the New Orleans Pelicans for Buddy Hield and a first and second-round pick.

The story isn’t new, but the perspective of the events from Walberg and Karl is. It’s not often that a legendary coach gets destroyed in the locker room by an All-Star player minutes before Drake stops by for a visit.