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Vlade Divac's Private War
Rick Reilly
May 24, 1999
Tonight's another war for Sacramento Kings center Vlade Divac. His eyes are red lumps. His face is gaunt. He can't stand to keep going, but he can't stand not to.
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May 24, 1999

Vlade Divac's Private War

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Tonight's another war for Sacramento Kings center Vlade Divac. His eyes are red lumps. His face is gaunt. He can't stand to keep going, but he can't stand not to.

It's 3 a.m.

The war in room 739 at the Salt Lake City Marriott wages on. In less than 13 hours, Sacramento will tip off in the fifth and deciding game of its playoff series against the Utah Jazz. It will be one of the biggest basketball games of Divac's life. Everybody else on the Kings has long been out cold, but Divac's remote control is hotter than a skillet, hungry for any news from his native Serbia. He has practically worn out the keypad on the phone trying to call his parents along the Kosovo border, his brother in Belgrade, his friends all over Serbia. The night is long.

Every night there's more sorrow. Divac says NATO has bombed his hometown of Prijepolje 10 times in two months. His cousin Milan, a bus driver, just had his leg blown off. One of his best friends hasn't been heard from in 10 days. The other day a bomb hit the bridge Divac used to ride his bike across every day to basketball practice. The force of the explosion blew out his parents' windows and wrecked their furniture.

If he reaches them tonight, he'll try again to get them to leave, but they won't. Their whole block is family. They don't even go to the shelters during the bombings anymore. "Better I should die when I sleep," says his mother, Rada.

Divac's two sons, Luka, 7, and Matia, 5, are worried. Every summer they go to Prijepolje, and their grandfather makes them a little fort in the backyard. "Daddy," Matia asked last week, "will they bomb my tent?"

His youngest child, seven-month-old Petra, is adopted. Divac is already dreading the day he'll have to tell her how her biological parents were shot on their way to the market by Kosovo Liberation Army snipers. He doesn't need any more stories to tell.

Every night is the same. He can't sleep. His stomach is a science project. He's lost 20 pounds. He watches every CNN newscaster, trying to read between the lips. He works the Internet. He waits until 2 a.m.—11 a.m. in Serbia—and starts calling. Sometimes he gets through more quickly than others. He didn't get to sleep until 6:30 last Saturday morning.

He dials his brother Ivica again. Still no answer. Four days out of seven Ivica reports for duty in the Serb army. Three weeks ago Ivica's wife and five-year-old daughter got out of Yugoslavia, but after four days they went back. They went back! "Sometimes it gets so bad, you just say, we want to be together, no matter what," Vlade says. If he were there, he'd probably stay, too. The guilt gnaws at him that he's not.

He has gotten through. "Mama!" he yells into the phone. He asks if everything is all right. She says yes, yes, but that's not important. "What about Ivica?" he asks. She says she talked to him seven hours ago, and he's O.K., but that's not important. "What, Mama? What's important?"

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