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Ian Thomsen
April 16, 2001
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April 16, 2001

The Nba

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The Fallout from Yugoslavia
Another Try For Reconciliation

In the late 1980s Yugoslavia appeared to be building an arsenal of basketball talent that might have challenged the U.S. Dream Teams in the Olympic Games the following decade. Those high hopes crumbled with the disintegration of Yugoslavia and the resulting wars involving the Serb government, Croatia, and Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Now a reunification of sorts has been arranged by the NBA and the international basketball federation (FIBA). Nine NBA players and other professionals from the war-torn countries of the former Yugoslavia will gather on June 29 in Treviso, Italy, to run a four-day camp—called Basketball Without Borders—for 50 players from their homelands between 12 and 14 years old. The adults will renew old acquaintances with mixed feelings. Vlade Divac, a Serb, recalls that the league's Croatian players tended to avoid him after the Balkan wars began, in large part because the Serbs were the aggressors.

"Now I hope everybody understands it was all stupid," says Divac. "The war never should have happened. I'm looking at it from a positive perspective, that we should be there to show we respect each other and we don't want to hate each other like the people back home."

As noble as Divac's intentions may be, it's not going to be that easy. "I can't forget what has happened," says Pacers center Zan Tabak, a 30-year-old Croatian. "Too many people from my country died. I don't want to make it sound like I dislike Divac or [Peja] Stojakovic [another Serb], but this is not about me going over there to make friendships with them. This camp is something we are doing for the kids. I don't think our people can ever live together the way we lived before. But with this camp we are trying to help the next generation live without hate."

Curse of the Nets
$55 Million in Injured Players

The Nets are headed for the lottery for the sixth time in seven years, but don't accuse them of being the Eastern Conference version of the Clippers. Unlike Donald Sterling's troubled team, New Jersey is willing to spend. However, because of bad moves and a horrible run of injuries, its salary-cap obligations include $55.4 million for 10 players who were not available to them last week. The team was laying out more for disabled bodies than eight other clubs were spending on their entire rosters.

"I've never seen anything like it," says Nets president Rod Thorn, whose hopes of making the playoffs have been dashed by two broken legs and five surgeries. Last month starting point guard Stephon Marbury (left pinky surgery) and Rookie of the Year candidate Kenyon Martin (fractured fibia) were shut down for the rest of the season, ensuring that for the fifth time in six years the Nets will be ranked among the top five in games lost to injuries and illness. "Each week it's been like waiting to see who's going to be kicked off Survivor" says center Evan Eschmeyer.

Some trace the curse of the Nets to their 1976 trade of Julius Erving to the 76ers. Since then the team has endured the 1986 drug suspension of Micheal Ray Richardson and the 1993 death of star guard Drazen Petrovic in a car accident in Germany. The payroll is still encumbered by the $13.75 million salary of Jayson Williams, who was forced into retirement by the broken right tibia and kneecap he suffered two seasons ago. In a case of insult truly being added to injury, the league denied the team salary-cap injury exceptions for Williams and for guard Kerry Kittles (knee surgery) last summer. "We were never going to get the exception for Williams because the NBA doctors believed he was coming back," Thorn says. "But I'm disappointed about Kittles." The exception would have allowed New Jersey to replace Kittles with a player earning $2.9 million this season.

Next year's team may not include forward Keith Van Horn, who missed the season's first 32 games with a broken left leg; he could be traded to fill some of the Nets' many needs, including a shooting guard and a center. Thorn does not sound likely to deal his most valuable commodity, Marbury, who made his first All-Star team this year. A few guys are unlikely to be traded, says Thorn, "and Stephon is in that group." Van Horn? "He's in that group, but not to the extent that Marbury is."

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