NBA

Vlade Divac & Peja Stojakovic: A pair of Kings

A Great Deal.

All around the world, this game is global. Just take this last October gone for example. In the NBA’s exhibition across Europe and the rest of the world to preview their season with some preseason games, they travel everywhere from London to the towers and bridges of many other popular cities. Last year however as Kevin Durant’s Oklahoma City Thunder faced down the Dr. J/A.I. legendary, storied Philadelphia 76ers franchise in the North West of England, the city of Manchester-famous for their Giants named team and their NBA export John Amaechi-saw it’s first National Basketball Association game with an oasis of talent. More than a year after the male and female Team USA practiced for the 2012 London Olympics against Teaam G.B. in an epic double-header and precursor to the big stage, Manchester showed it had the court vision to host a real game. Now there are even rumours that a state-of-the-art stadium is being built in this city for even more excitement than the Manchester Arena, that was once voted best in the world, higher than the mecca of Madison Square Garden. For Manchester’s first game the legendary likes of Amaechi and the finger-wagging of Dikembe Mutombo where on hand, as where a pair of Kings for this great deal. The Arco Arena of Sacramento’s finest cow-bell ringers Vlade Divac and Predrag Stojaković where there for more. Suited and booted like European actors with their huge heights giving away their true profession. Divac looking like a Jean Reno villain. The same villain he flopped his way to in the league, whilst having the strong, standstill to be a hero in Sacto. The same villain to the Los Angeles Lakers from the King dethroning playoff day attempts in the game of thrones days to the two times he made a great Laker addition but one in the wake of both ends in the death of the big Magic and Shaq dynasty respectively. Next to him slicked back and bearded up to look like a Hollywood star or model that could take your girlfriends gaze (trust me I know), Peja has the same good look that made him such a great one from behind the arc. The same great look that made him as pure a three-point shooter as the Bird’s, Miller’s and Allen’s that shot before him and the Curry’s that heated up after.

In the best West days of the new millennium that saw Shaquille O’Neal or Tim Duncan dominate everyone from the four corners of the league and America, the Sacramento Kings where closer to the Los Angeles Lakers and San Antonio Spurs dynasties than even the great pretenders like the Portland Trail Blazers. How these Kings didn’t actually take the throne like LeBron James is beyond the reason, referees and the Basketball God’s…and this is a Laker fan saying this. Still, it wasn’t a lucky Robert Horry shot that killed the Kings, because luck had nothing to do with it. It was the epic, enormous era of Shaq and Duncan, who where even so-good and close they where co-MVP’s one time. Their battles where so legendary and somewhat underrated they deserved their own NBA Finals moment like Wilt and Russell or Bird and Magic. Still, the new blue-collar Celtics in the Spurs and their Laker rivals would always play for Larry in the Western Conference Finals, because whoever won that contest may as well have been crowned NBA champions there and then in those Finals, because they eventually where. Only Detroit’s dynasty destroying Piston team took a chip in this Lake Show/Spurs clicking championship campaign of time. Still, Sacramento could have got one and they almost did. They where just that great. With a fab-five and a scorching, scoring ‘Sixth Man Of The Year’ in Bobby Jackson they where led by the post, Power Forward revolution of Chris Webber and the clutch of Mike Bibby’s game-winning buckets to offset the dogged defence of another former Laker/King Doug Christie. Still, throughout the deep roster that shouted out ‘Sacramento’ like 2Pac asking “where you at” on ‘California Love’, it was the pair of “foreign shooters” that punchline king Lloyd Banks referred to on G-Unit’s ‘Follow Me Gangster’, off the ‘Cradle 2 The Grave’ soundtrack that where truly something else. They almost won it all but they where too busy battling for California with the Lakers like the Clippers of today. It got too hot in that state and it was clear to see through the smog of STAPLES success that only one band of brothers would make it out there alive.

Vlade Divac began and ended his NBA career with the Los Angeles Lakers and no matter what you say about him being a true King you can put him in the George Mikan, Wilt Chamberlain, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Shaquille O’Neal list of legenday giant great centres who have held post on Lakerland…even with Andrew Bynum and Dwight Howard for better or worse. Divac also belongs to the magnificent six, elite company of Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Tim Duncan, Shaquille O’Neal, Kevin Garnett and Hakeem Olajuwon in players to post significant statistics of 13,000 points, 9,000 rebounds, 3,000 assists and 1,500 blocked shots. If you don’t think that’s big than how could you possibly scale taller? One of the 50 Greatest Euroleague Contributors and member of both the FIBA and World Sports Humanitarian Hall of Fame deserves his Naismith moment too. After time with Sloga and Partizan, Vlade took his grizzled beard and game to the final curtain of showtime with the Lakers. With Kareem taking to the rocking chair and Magic retiring after that announcement there was only a small amount of Worthy talent left on the aging Lakers. Still, the young Vlade was definitely one of them, pivoting through all the critical mess to both his own team and his status as one of the first, new breed of foreign imports to a great post presence that scored over those who wrote him off. Mentored by ‘Cap and Earv before they took their final bow, Divac learnt from the best and showed the rest. Even though at first he spoke no English, his game or charm winning personality was not lost in translation. More than making flopping famous, some consider Vlade’s best move for the Lakers being when they traded him for this young high-school kid named Kobe Bryant who would team up with some other big fella for history and drama that Divac would be more than a courtside witness too. He saw it all out there on the floor after he left the Charlotte Hornets for the Sacramento Kings before he returned to the Lakers after all those years to team up with the man he was traded for as a valuable veteran on a rebuilding but real Laker team. He was back but back problems troubled him and backed down his career.

While Divac was getting used to America’s phrasebook and the NBA’s playbook, Peja Stojaković was showing Crvena Zvezda of FR Yugoslavia and PAOK of Greece that this Serbian had skills enough to gain Greek citizenship and the ball every time down the floor. No wonder the Sacramento Kings gave the draft crown to this gunner who would eventually shoot down the competition to be the sixth all time league leader in three-point field goals to go along with two All-Star ‘Three-Point Shootout’ contest wins just for fun. As well as the Kings, Stojaković took his legendary three-balls to the Fieldhouses of Indiana that Reggie Miller made clutch famous, before he kept up pace with a career high 42 points in New Orleans, stinging people from downtown as a Hornet. Still, his own back problems took him to the injury table and Canada for the Toronto Raptors, but this man who at 36 could probably still play-and at least definitely shoot-today was far from extinct. Showing Dallas in his last shot like J.R. that he was a true Maverick, whilst showing the great Dirk Nowitzki that there was more than one pure shooter in this town ready to take him from three like the epic battles of the Texas triangle with the San Antonio Spurs and the Houston Rockets. Through the pain in the neck injuries that would prematurely end his career the playoff power player showed those old 20 point games his hot-hand was accustomed to feeling in his last preseason with the Mavs. A hand that was so scorching it helped seal the deal with O’Brien as the Dallas Mavericks went on to be NBA champions, giving Dirk and also Peja the ring on their fingers they so richly deserved in all its glitter and gold. Still throughout all the Euro-ball and National Basketball Association teams that Stojaković called home nothing quite defined his time off the pine then his tennure with the Kings just like his international partner Vlade. Even though the two won together in Yugoslavia, doing something Vlade wished he could unite with, alongside his friend, the late, great Dražen Petrović. The two stars who brought countries together showed one that Basketball didn’t just belong to one country or league during their time in the NBA.

Whilst Webber took ‘best in the league’ consideration and Mike Bibby inked more made shots then he made tattoo appointments, Rick Adelman’s Kings where worthy of the throne all the way down to the award of Bobby Jackson and all the peasant playoff dirty work Doug Christie did in the trenches and moats around the castle walls of Larry O’Briens NBA Finals home. Still Vlade held it down in the middle like an impaler, showing and proving that he was more than a flopper or punching bag for Shaquille O’Neal. He didn’t just stand like a sand-bag in the centre. Instead he soaked up the offence of the greatest post-talents from David Robinson to Arvydas Sabonis. That’s what happens when you take years of punishment off 90’s golden era players like the Georgetwon Hoya’s, Patrick Ewing, Alonzo Mourning and Dikembe Mutombo along with Hakeem Olaujawon and the aformentioned for your on the job training, once the captian hangs up his goggles and helping hand and court vision like Magic. Still, Vlade was a 20 and 10 threat himself and not only one of the best big-men in league history but greatest players too. Robery Horry should even check a paper or something. His six seasons where more significant than the prime time of his six-player points, rebounds, assists and blocks historical milestone company. Especially with his six-shooter beside him as his fellow countrymen Peja Stojaković helped make this Sacramento team anything but queens as this would-be Kings and best team in the league during their controversial period should have been crowned as such. Peja’s purity from behind the arc wasn’t his only scoring prowess, as this 20 point threat himself and bearded brother could shave down the middle and showed the grit and grind, behind the foreign flair of these incredibly inspired imports, before that guy named Ginobili stood alongside the tear-drop, Eva Longoria scooping of Tony Parker and had everyone screaming ‘MANU’ like Charles Barkley with the San Antonio Spurs. It may have all clicked for the Alamo but the Arco was still legendary thanks to their own European influence from two men who not only helped, showed and proved to their town and league, but the whole world that this game was truly global thanks to their definition. Sure in Sacramento they may have not been winners but what they’ve done for Yugoslavia and the world when it comes to beyond the floor and court shows they are still true champions. This will always make them, forever kings.

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