To Divac's relief, both Radja and Kukoc greeted him. The encounter was nonetheless too strained for Divac's taste. "We converse, but it's not the relationship that used to be," he says. "And that's not enough for me. For years we spent almost every day together. I deserve more from them than just, 'Hello.' "
So desperate is Divac's need to talk with his old teammates that shortly after the war started in 1991, he called Alibegovic, who was then playing at Oregon State, and asked him to make the drive from Corvallis up to Portland, where the Lakers were playing the Trail Blazers. Holed up with his former teammate in his hotel room, Divac brought up the war.
"Let's not talk about that," Alibegovic said.
"Teo, we must talk," Divac replied. "I must know the truth. What do you think? I'm going to tell you what I think."
If a simple face-to-face means so much to Divac, it may be because there's someone he wishes he could still talk to but can't. In Buenos Aires in 1990, as Yugoslavia celebrated its 92-75 rout of the Soviet Union to win the world championships, a fan ran out on the court brandishing a Croatian flag. To Divac this interloper was a vandal, trying to cleave Divac's teammates from him by politicizing a sacred moment, and he instinctively yanked the flag away. "I told the guy Yugoslavia won and to please leave," Divac says. "He told me my flag was bullshit."
Divac and one of the Croats on that team, another budding NBA star named Drazen Petrovic, used to speak on the phone almost every day after they joined the NBA. In '92, after the war started, Petrovic suddenly stopped returning Divac's calls, and to others he cited the incident in Argentina as the reason. Divac believes that Petrovic, whose father is a Serb, froze him out because Petrovic felt pressure to prove his pro-Croat bona fides. "At first I told myself, When this is all over, he and I will talk about it." But Petrovic was killed in a car accident in Germany in 1993 before the two could work out their differences. "That was the most difficult thing for me, not having had a chance to talk about it," says Divac.
Few fans know that The Divac Fund sends aid to child victims of the war, whether Croat, Muslim or Serb. Yet before the Dayton accords brought a shaky truce to the-Balkans last fall, Divac often heard anti-Serb heckling in NBA arenas. He usually ignored it. But in Minneapolis last November, after a loss to the Timberwolves, Divac had to be restrained from going after a fan who had screamed venom at him as he left the Target Center floor. "I hate it," Divac would say after the game. "Yell at me about basketball. Not this."
"From all sides they lie to their people," Divac says. "I know because I have a satellite dish at home. The market bombing in Sarajevo: The Croats said the Serbs did it. The Serbs said the Croats did it. CNN said we don't know who did it."
At his house several months ago, Divac pulled out a videotape of an NBA opponent the Lakers were to play several days hence. But after popping it into his VCR he realized he had mistakenly cued up Yugoslav television's broadcast of the 1991 European final, which was played even as months of tensions in the Balkans were spilling over into a shooting war. Something kept Divac seated until the entirety of Yugoslavia's 88-73 defeat of Italy had spooled out. "This great team may be the best ever," the announcer intoned in Serbo-Croatian as the game wound down. "And it has probably played its last game together."
Deep in the pile of his couch Divac started to cry. "As soon as I wake up and see the sun, I should be the happiest guy in the world," he says. "I have all the reason to be the happiest guy in the world. But I can't be. It's like all my body's happy, except one part, which is hurt and dying."