Perhaps the giddiness of returning to international competition, and doing so victoriously, accounted for the Yugoslavs' behavior following their 96-90 defeat of Lithuania in the European final in Athens last summer. The entire Yugoslav team flashed the three-fingered salute favored by militant Serbs during the war. As the third-place Croats received their bronze medals. Divac and Djordjevic, from their perch atop the medal stand, applauded. But before the Yugoslavs could be presented with their golds, the Croats dismounted the stand and left the floor.
Up in the seats, too disgusted to watch, Pesic ushered his wife and daughter out of the arena. It had been four years since Yugoslavia's last European title—four years between one last noble stand together and this poisoned endgame.
Djordjevic says he flashed the three fingers "not to be provocative. Just: That's Serbia, that's us, that's me—nothing else. It's my pride.
"The Croats had a lot of pressure on them. The proof is the way they walked out of the gym. I think someone told them to do that. They were not thinking with their heads. They were thinking with the heads of their politicians."
No, Dino Radja is saying. It was the players' decision—a decision made because of the Serbian fans. "Croatian fans were saying only, 'Go Croatia,' " he says. "Serbian fans were insulting us, saying things about our mothers and fathers, about how they were going to kill us. You don't want to accept fans spitting on you and calling you names. We were advised to stay there, but I didn't want to hear that no more.
"A lot worse things happen," says the man who used to room with Djordjevic. "Neighbors kill neighbors. So this is a really minor thing."
In December, shortly after the signing of the Dayton accords and President Clinton's decision to commit U.S. troops to Bosnia to enforce them, Radja and the Celtics played the Bullets in Washington. As Radja was preparing to shoot a free throw, Robin Ficker, the Bullets fan notorious for his heckling, called out, "Dino, do you think we should send the troops?" Around the NBA, Rule No. 1 regarding Ficker is to ignore him. Rule No. 2 is, See Rule No. 1. But in this case Radja paused, turned toward Ficker and nodded yes. Then he sank the foul shot.
Croatian president Franjo Tudjman had joined the national team for dinner after Croatia won its silver medal in Barcelona, and there several players asked him, When would the army take back the Krajina (the region in eastern Croatia then in the hands of rebel Serbs)? Soon, Tudjman said—and that night he promised the players that he and they would share a traditional lamb feast in Knin, the capital of the Krajina, after its liberation. Last August, Croatian troops recaptured Knin with a lightning offensive. Several days after the victory Radja joined Tudjman in the fortress commanding the city, and they shared their meal, as promised.
Radja is so gentle a soul that he wears a tattoo with a church spire and a dolphin on his left shoulder. "I like the dolphin." he says. "It is a peaceful fish." But the calm has been broken, and so has Radja's equipoise. "My country was attacked," he says. "My country was destroyed. A lot of kids have been killed, and a lot of people don't live together no more, don't have houses no more. You can't have the same relationship like before. You can't.
"I can't hate somebody because he's born on the other side of the river. And I don't think he should hate me because I'm born over here. Bui if he goes and agrees with all these things that happened, then I have to disagree with him. Unless he does that, I don't see why we shouldn't be friends."