Peja Stojakovic reflects on Sacramento Kings golden era
It took a little while to get things off the ground, but the new Sacramento Kings front office has done a nice job of connecting the old Kings with the new. Mitch Richmond is now part of the ownership group and a few weeks back, Vlade Divac stopped in for a visit.
On Sunday, it was Peja Stojakovic‘s turn to visit his old stomping grounds. The 36-year-old forward looks to be in great shape. He still struggles with the back issues that cut his career short, but has been playing tennis and living life away from the grind of the NBA.
The three-time All-Star sat down with Cowbell Kingdom for a conversation before Sunday’s game with the Dallas Mavericks. He is engaging, honest and definitely nostalgic about his years with the Sacramento Kings.
CK: You started here in Sacramento as such a young kid. What was it like to spend eight seasons here in Sacramento with that great group of players that nearly won it all?
PS: Best years of my career. Best years of my life. Definitely something that we should all be proud of. I am proud of just the relationships that we built, just the connection that we built with the people here, with the fans. Just overall, it was amazing. When you are a part of it, you don’t think of it as much. But when you move along and you go to different teams, (you realize) ok, that was special.
The things that you have to work hard for, like understanding your role, building chemistry, we didn’t have to do that. It happened. It was natural. And then I went to other teams and you had all of these different problems that we didn’t have. That team was special. That’s how you kind of appreciate that more.
CK: What is it that made that Sacramento team so special?
PS: I think it was just how much we loved playing together. How much we enjoyed being together on the court. There was no one person who was selfish on that team that was putting himself in front of the team. It was always the team. If we lose, we still hung out together. When we won, we were still together.
I remember the first year. We made the playoffs, but it was hard. A few games we win, a few games we lose. But we just helped each other. I remember the guys saying, “Just stick together, don’t worry about it. We’re going to be good tomorrow. The next day will be better.” The stuff that we had, the system that was implemented for us, I think it helped our game. And later on, I think we helped the system with our creativity, because I think Coach (Rick Adelman) had so much confidence in us. He trusted us so much on the court, as far as making the right decisions. It was really a team game. It was a lot of body movement, a lot of ball movement. It was fun basketball.
CK: Your years in Sacramento were clearly your best years of your career. You hold the team record for the most career games played in the Sacramento era. What would it mean for you to have your number 16 raised to the rafters?
PS: It would be an unbelievable honor. Unbelievable. Just when you said that, I got goose bumps. When I was a kid, my dream was to play in the NBA. I never thought that I would be a good player. I never thought I was going to be an All-Star. I never thought I would be in the playoffs. Each and every year, for me, was special. I was always trying to achieve somethings more. It would definitely be an amazing honor. I don’t know what to say. If it happens, it will be amazing. If not, it was still an amazing eight years I spent here. The memories that I carry with me are amazing and I can only say good things about my time here.
CK: As you moved on from Sacramento, you had success. You won a championship as a reserve for the Mavericks. What was it like winning that championship, looking back and knowing that you could have had a few more from those years in Sacramento?
PS: You know, when you are young, you always say to yourself, “Ok, there is a next.” And then years go by. Injuries happen. Trades happen. And you look around and there aren’t the same people around you anymore. You go to a different team and you realize how a basketball career is very short. How hard it is to establish good chemistry. How hard it is to establish a winning mentality. How long it takes actually. How lucky you have to be sometimes. And you really think about those days when you were really close and you didn’t grab those opportunities.
I always say to myself and my friends, what I remember the most is the things that I didn’t do. I remember the things that I didn’t accomplish. I remember the shots that I missed. Those things stay with you. The last goal with the Mavericks, it was a life-saving goal. I was a reserve and my role was reduced. I wasn’t the same player. But I was happy. I was playing for the team. A very good team. An experienced team, good organization, good coaching staff. Our only goal was winning a championship. There was no ego. The only thing in front of us was to win a championship. I believe that even if I didn’t contribute a lot, I’m happy with the part that I played in that run and I’m very fortunate that I was able to finish my career with a championship.
CK: When you look at the game now and see how stars are flocking to teams to play together, and you look back at the team in Sacramento and even the Dallas team that won it all, those teams had great players, but they were 12 or 13 deep. Do you like the new direction of the game?
PS: The game is changing, definitely. Players now, when they become free agents, they are making the best decisions that are right for them. You can’t blame them. I have a great respect for the loyalty that players give to their teams and the teams are giving to them. In this case, look at Dirk Nowitzki and how loyal he is to the Mavericks and they are loyal to him. All those years, he was always close, close, close, but they were adding pieces around him. He kind of got stuck together with them and he believed in the process. It happened. After all of the pieces were put together, it was a very satisfying moment, for all of us.
I remember Karl Malone and John Stockton, they stayed in Utah for 17 or 18 seasons. But it’s today’s world. We cannot live 15 or 20 years ago. The game has changed. People think differently. I like what I see. The game is still at a high level. This league has amazing talent.
CK: Do you wish you could have played your entire career here in Sacramento? It didn’t go down the way I’m sure you envisioned it.
PS: I was young. I was young and it was emotional for me. I couldn’t hide that. It was my first team. I was here seven and a half seasons and the stuff was happening so fast. Vlade (Divac), he left in free agency. Doug Christie was traded, Chris (Webber) was traded. Everything was kind of going towards me. Me and Mike (Bibby) were the last people around and coach Adelman as well. But you have to move on with your life. You have to understand that and you have to accept that decision.