SACRAMENTO -- Vlade Divac sauntered into the media room at Golden 1 Center on Sunday night through the main double doors. No need to take the back hallway to avoid the crowds. After so many years as both a player and now executive in Sacramento, Divac is a man of the people.
Known for his sheepish grin and quick wit, Divac took the mic to field questions about his induction into the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame, not the current state of his Kings' roster.
Sacramento would go on to lose its home finale a few hours later, but that’s nothing more than a side note in an otherwise successful season.
Divac’ basketball journey is unique. Like many, it started at a young age, but his path to the league required incredible sacrifice and a leap of faith by not only him, but his family as a well.
The 7-footer spoke about sitting at a table with his parents and his brother as a teenager, telling them he was leaving home to tryout for a professional basketball team. With his parents blessing, he began an incredible voyage that took him all around the world.
“When those things happen, you go back in your career and where you came from, and I remember the detail when I made a big decision for myself and for my family basically,” Divac said. “I was just 14 years, and I had to leave my parents to pursue basketball.”
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The Serbia-born big mentioned his European coaches, who had to take over parental roles while developing the young center. He also spoke on the journey of being the first European player to be drafted in the first round and go directly to the NBA.
“I really commit to go there and try to make it and I kind of opened the door for everybody else,” Divac said.
Divac made the Yugoslavian national team as a young man and played alongside some of the greatest names to ever come out of Europe. That team -- which included Drazen Petrovic, Toni Kukoc, Dino Raja and Zarko Paspalj -- would go on to take home the silver medal at the 1988 Olympics in Seoul, Korea.
All five of those players would go onto play in the NBA. Both Petrovic and Raja already have made the Hall of Fame. Kukoc, who won three NBA championships with the Bulls, it likely headed for enshrinement as well.
“My early years with my youth, we won World Championship games,” DIvac said. “From that team, basically you’re going to end up with three or four Hall of Famers.”
The group would go on to win EuroBasket gold medals in 1989 and 1991 and a FIBA world championship in 1990. Eventually, the team was torn apart by the Balkan wars, but as a squad, they helped transform the game of basketball and trigger the massive influx of European players into the NBA.
“He is one of our first icebreakers that come over from Europe,” Serbian-born wing Bogdan Bogdanovic told NBC Sports California. “He led the way for a lot of European athletes to come overseas and play in the NBA. He’s one of the greatest players to ever play.”
According to Bogdanovic, he would wake up in the middle of the night to watch Divac and the Kings play. Being part of the Kings’ franchise and working under Divac has been a dream come true.
“I have so many questions for him, because I watched him play, I heard a lot of stories about him,” Bogdanovic added. “I’m so happy that I have a chance to have him here next to me.”
For Divac, his desire to play in the NBA started early. Every step of the way he found success, both internationally and in the NBA.
“My dream when I made the national team was to be part of the NBA,” Divac said. “When I made the NBA, I wanted to do more. I’m 50 now, I’m tired, I don’t want to do anything. I think I reached all of my goals in terms of a player.”
In his rookie season, Divac was named to the first team All-Rookie squad. He made an All-Star team as a member of the Kings and he 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.
While his playing days are over, Divac’s venture into management is just beginning. He’s helped revitalize the franchise that embraced him, putting together the team that has posted the highest win total since the 2005-06 season.
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“This phase, that started four or five years ago with the Kings is a new chapter in my life and hopefully I can achieve, at least close to that,” Divac added.
While Divac got the call, another former Kings player was snubbed again. Five-time All-Star, Chris Webber was a finalist, but was left out when the final decision was made on the Class of 2019.
“I’m always surprised when he’s not there,” Divac said of Webber. “I wouldn’t be surprised when that happens and it will happen.”
Divac said Webber was one of the first to reach out and congratulate him on the honor. Divac said he hoped that Webber would have been in the same Hall of Fame Class.
With his playing days long gone, Divac still has the rare ability to own a room. He was known as the glue that kept a talented Kings squad together during the early 2000s, and he is doing the same in his shift to management in Sacramento.
“It’s just a testament to a guy who has handled himself as a player and of course, going forward from there as an executive, in a very classy way,” coach Dave Joerger said Sunday. “He’s a guy that everyone wants to be around.”
Later this year, Divac will travel to Springfield, Mass., for the enshrinement ceremony, which is set for Sept. 5-7. He joins a large class, including coach Bill Fitch, NBA stars Bobby Jones, Sidney Moncrief, Paul Westphal and Jack Sikma, WNBA star Teresa Weatherspoon, Al Attles from the Contributor Committee, Charles “Chuck” Cooper from the Early African American Pioneers Committee, Carl Braun from the Veterans Committee and the Wayland Baptist Flying Queens of 1948-1982 from the newly instated Women’s Veterans Committee, and the Tennessee A&I Teams of 1957-1959, who were the first team to win back-to-back collegiate championships.