Came the day, of course, that Mr. Heavy traded Divac to Charlotte, a deal that not only gave the Lakers the draft rights to Kobe Bryant but also cleared cap space for the eventual free-agent signing of O'Neal. Divac was so devastated after the July '96 deal that he almost quit the game. "It was the first bad thing that had ever happened to me," says Divac. "But, later, when I thought about it, what else could Jerry have done? Let's see, I can get Kobe and Shaq and give up only Vlade. Who wouldn't do that?"
Hornets coach Dave Cowens persuaded him to give it a try, and Divac spent two productive seasons in Charlotte, enhancing his status among NBA centers. When Petrie signed Divac as a free agent in January '99, he was looking not only for a locker room presence but also for a real player, a court-savvy hub for the Kings' offense—which is exactly what Divac has been.
Still, as well as he has played, it is Divac's leadership and his qualities as a human being that the Kings dwell upon. "I've never met a better person than Vlade," says coach Rick Adelman. "When you have a guy on your team who will talk to a ball boy the same way he'll talk to the President of the U.S., that is special."
"Vlade makes everybody on this team into good guys," says Pollard, who refers to Divac, Stojakovic and Turkoglu as the Father, the Son and the Holy Turk.
It is impossible to have more than a 10-minute conversation with Divac and not hear the word family. He would not still be playing, he says, if the Kings had not gradually built themselves into a close-knit bunch like the one he found in his early days in L.A. And he would not be playing well, he says, if he and Ana had not decided that she would scale back her theater career to live with him and their children (Luka, Maria and Petra) in Sacramento during the season. During the Thursday-through-Sunday run of Lysistrata—The Sex Strike, which wrapped up on Oct. 12, Ana would fly to LA on Thursday morning, stay in their house in Pacific Palisades and fly back to Sacramento on Monday morning. Vlade talks proudly of his parents' recent 40th wedding anniversary and says he and Ana will have one of those too. Vlade, in fact, can be a bit overbearing on the subject of marriage—as he is when his close friend and business associate Vuja Jovic, who is divorced, stops by for lunch.
"You see, Vuja here, he and his wife did not try," says Divac, staring down his friend.
"We tried," says Jovic, who works for Divac's agent.
"You did not try!" snaps Divac. "If you tried, you would still be together. When you are married, you cannot go your own way."
Obviously the Balkan cataclysm of the 1990s, in which Serbs were pitted against Croats and Bosnian Muslims, profoundly affected a man who takes family so seriously. During the spring of '99, as NATO bombed Yugoslavia, Divac stayed up far into the night, following the news on TV and the Internet. His relationships with his former national teammates, particularly the Croatian Toni Kukoc, have been affected. "We are still friends," Divac says softly. "We can still talk. But it will never be the same. Too much has happened."
Divac was so moved by the bloodshed that he formed Group 7/ Vlade Divac Children's Foundation, an organization dedicated to providing medical supplies, food and other relief to Balkan children victimized by war and civil unrest. During one relief trip to Yugoslavia, he and Ana adopted Petra, then six months old, who had lost her parents in the fighting. Vlade was an outspoken critic of former Yugoslav president Slobodan Milosevic. The player's tirades frequently appeared on the front pages of Yugoslav newspapers because in his homeland, he says, "I am a heavy guy, like Jerry West." Jovic worried for his friend's safety, so harsh were Divac's criticisms of Milosevic, who was later arrested and is now on trial for war crimes. Divac is also active in UNICEF; last year he made a $10,000 donation to its Afghanistan Relief Project.