Inside the locker room Divac immediately strips. "A pregame shower," he says, grabbing a towel, "is the only way I can wake up. Besides, I am the cleanest player on the floor that way. When I was younger, I used to go out early, warm up, check out the crowd, let them check out me."
Divac returns from his shower, towels off, sits down and looks around the locker room. This is his domain. This is where he is at his best. Like his father, Divac is a schmoozer. Milenko Divac is a popular man in Prijepolje, the city in western Serbia where Vlade was born. Before Milenko retired, he managed a small electronics factory, but what he liked most was walking around town, meeting friends for coffee, catching up on the news of the day. "Many Yugoslavian men are quiet, distrustful of people and not very open," says Ana Divac. "Vlade is the opposite. Exactly like his father."
Divac pulls on his jersey, smooths it down and points to the lettering, which now spells out SACRAMENTO instead of KINGS, as it did in the past. "They are trying to send a message with these new uniforms," Divac says. "They are encouraging us to build up our chests. Right now it looks like I play for MENTO."
Keon Clark, a beanpole obtained from the Toronto Raptors in the off-season to back up Divac, emerges from the bathroom with his bald pate covered in shaving cream. Divac almost falls on the floor laughing. "A camera!" he shouts. "Where is a camera when you need it?" Clark breaks into a wide grin. He and Divac have become close; just as important, so have Clark and last year's backup center, Scot Pollard, from whom Clark will be taking playing time. This easygoing oddball trio deserves a nickname, so let's try this one: the Sacramento Stooges.
Clark has become Divac's favorite patsy for his ever-growing inventory of card tricks, a subject on which Divac and Webber are discoursing at the moment. Divac, like most of the Kings, loved the trade that sent the unpredictable Jason Williams to the Memphis Grizzlies for Bibby, but it cost Divac a magic-obsessed friend. Divac's best trick, says Webber, is malting a cigarette disappear. "I learned it from a homeless guy in Los Angeles," says Divac. "I stopped the car one night to give him $30, and he says, 'Wait a minute. I'll show you something.' " The trick is perfect for Divac because he enjoys his reputation as an occasional smoker. "It's not like I sneak into a secret place in the locker room and puff like a madman," he says. He admits to smoking the odd cigarette, even during the season, and to puffing on cigars. "Obviously, smoking doesn't help me," he says, "but I don't think it hurts at this point either."
The talk turns to Tunel 21, the Italian restaurant that Divac and his wife will soon open in Sacramento. Divac is most excited about the downstairs nightclub, which he hopes will become the spot for Sacramento's postgame scene. "I expect all these guys to show up," he says, sweeping his arm around the room. "So my clientele will be, you know, freeloaders."
Championship teams usually have a looseness and confidence about them, and the Kings have that part down already. Divac, the veteran leader, and Webber, the superstar who's down with his teammates, are the major reasons. "The first thing I noticed here," says Clark, "is that there are no egos. That's very unusual."
Tip-off is nearing, and a reporter asks Divac what he expects from the exhibition season. "No, no, it is not exhibition," says Divac, feigning a serious tone. " David Stern wants us to call it preseason. Exhibition sounds too...unofficial." He smiles slyly. "I am a company man."
The waiters at Il Fornaio, an Italian restaurant in downtown Sacramento, greet Divac like an old friend when he enters. He sits down, and a young woman approaches him for an autograph. "I admire the way you play," she says. When she leaves, Divac smiles. "See?" he says. "She admires it even if Shaq does not."
The general manager who most admired Divac's play as a young member of the Yugoslav national team was the Lakers' Jerry West, ahead of the curve as usual on NBA matters. West made Divac the 26th pick of the 1989 NBA draft, and Divac says it was one of the greatest strokes of luck he ever had. "None of the other European players had an organization that understood family," he says, "Magic, Byron [Scott], A.C. [Green]. Whatever I was dealing with, they were behind me. I'm not sure I could've made it without those guys." Divac still speaks of West with reverence. "Here was this guy who was on the NBA logo saying he wanted me and, after I got there, always acting like he wanted me. Jerry does not talk much, so when he says something, it's...heavy. That's the only word for Jerry West. He is very heavy."