Everybody’s favorite former Sacramento King, Vlade Divac, was in Australia last week, apparently on some charitable/humantarian business. And with the first grand slam of the tennis season underway, he dropped by Melbourne to root on fellow Serb and eventual 2012 Australian Open champion Novak Djokvic.
“Well I lost my voice,” said Divac on Morning Glory yesterday, an Australian sports talk radio program based out of Melbourne. “It’s amazing. (I) played basketball for a long time. I never saw an athlete do such a thing, both of them, (Rafael) Nadal and Djokovic, for almost six hours, playing at a high level.”
Divac spoke to hosts Andrew Gaze and Andy Maher about a wide variety of topics, including his relationship with the Serbian tennis star as well as his storied-basketball career. After the jump, a few excerpts.
“I like the kid. He’s number one. He’s probably one of the best athletes in the world. But not too many people know him off the court – a sweet guy, great guy, doing a lot of good things for kids and community back home. You have to love him.”
On what Djokovic is like off-the-court:
“Novak is, let me tell you, the Serbian people they’re lucky to have him because in tough time, he gave them a pride, gave them something to look forward (to) – especially kids that you can do whatever you want if you are working hard and you believe in yourself. It doesn’t matter where you are born. You can be successful like Novak and that’s great for us.”
On his role as President of the Serbian Olympic Committee:
“Yes I am and it’s very nice. I found a way to stay in sports. You know, I never thought I’m going to be a coach. We just talked before (we got on) the radio, our good friend Sasha is becoming a coach. It’s (a) tough job. So I find myself (being) part of sport and helping young athletes (to) prepare for (the) Olympic games.”
On whether he considers himself a Los Angeles Laker or a Sacramento King:
“It’s (a) tough decision. You really put me in the spot to choose. You know when you have kids (and you ask), which kid (do you love the most)? But I’ll be diplomatic. I’ll say my best years of my NBA, maybe all my career, happened in Sacramento. But my years with the Lakers were very important because it was a process of learning of what’s going to happen in the NBA.”
On game six of the 2002 Western Conference Finals against the Lakers:
“You know what? I remember, especially after game four. Game four, I think, was (the) deciding game because we split two games in Sacramento. We came back to L.A., beat them first and we were up like 20, 25 in (game 4). They came back and some very tough calls (and) they beat us. We go into the locker room and everyone is down and as a captain and (as one of the guys I said), ‘Hey guys, you should be proud! They are the champion last year and they had to steal the game from us, you know? So be proud. We go back home, we’re gonna beat them, come back to L.A. and everything is going to be fine.’
I feel we were champions that year. Doesn’t matter. We lost, but in our hearts, we played the way champions do and that’s the bottom line.”
On the officiating in game six:
“It was tough calls. But hey, sometimes you have to overcome those things and be better for that little bit.
It was a great team and I give the Lakers credit. It was a funny story in those series because playing (against) the Lakers (I have) a lot of friends in L.A., a lot of fans. But playing for Sacramento, I was their enemy.
Some guy came behind the bench and said ‘Vlade, how many rings you got?’ I said, ‘I got one.’ And he got surprised and he said, ‘When?’ I said, ’89 when I got married (to) my wife, I got a ring here!’”
On finding out Magic Johnson had HIV:
“One day I came to the practice and I saw a lot of media and everyone was talking about Earvin, you know. (And) when they announced he (had) HIV, I was in shock. I cried. I thought he was going to die (the) next day. We didn’t know too much about HIV. But I think he was strong enough to go publicly…and (basically) educate people what HIV is all about. I think so far, I’m sure he’s saved a lot of lives.”
On looking back at the war in former Yugoslavia and how it caused a rift between his friends (Toni Kukoc, Dino Radja, Drazen Petrovic, etc.)
“Back then I couldn’t understand. I said, ‘I can’t have a friend part-time. You’re (either) a friend or not (a) friend.’ But now when I look back, I can understand. I still have a lot of friends from Bosnia and Croatia – especially mixed marriages – and they have to choose sides. It’s crazy.”
Divac had a lot more to say (he was on the program for almost an hour). So, I’ve attached links to the interview (broken into four parts) below. Encourage you to give it a listen.
Jonathan Santiago is co-editor of Cowbell Kingdom. Follow him on Twitter.