At the center of a love-hate flip-flop
Vlade Divac says L.A. still enthralls him, but its fans aren't returning such sentiment
By Scott Howard-Cooper -- Bee Staff Writer
- Vlade Divac is forever in hostile waters, stuck in the middle of a state's basketball family fight and trying to remain loyal to two loves.
He lives in Sacramento, a city that considers Los Angeles evil incarnate.
And he loves Los Angeles, a city that regards playing for the Kings, especially the way Divac does, as cause for mockery.
"I'm in between," he says. "I've got to move to Fresno."
Even when playing the Clippers, there is no refuge. This is Los Angeles, after all, and Divac plays for the Kings. Of course he is booed.
Beloved after nearly six seasons in Sacramento, and rarely appreciated more than during the current run without Brad Miller and Chris Webber, Divac is the No. 1 target of venom anytime the Kings enter Staples Center, as they will tonight for the first road game this season against the Lakers.
Loyal to his Los Angeles roots to the end, Divac makes his current home in the city that hates L.A. more than any other.
The irony is as thick as the contradiction. The Lakers and Kings wouldn't be so good without Divac's role, after all, even if in L.A.'s case that meant being the guy who was shipped out of town, kicking and screaming, in the summer of 1996. That trade sent Divac to Charlotte for 17-year-old Kobe Bryant and cleared a large portion of salary-cap space to sign free agent Shaquille O'Neal.
Divac, deeply wounded
, threatened to retire
and nearly had the Hornets deal scuttled. But the Lakers wanted to carve out money for O'Neal, so Divac was on an outbound flight somewhere no matter what, even if it was for almost nothing to some team that would be willing to risk him reporting.
In the end, he accepted the deal to Charlotte, Bryant became a Laker, O'Neal became a Laker, and Divac for a while actually relished his role as sacrificial lamb, glad to help the organization any way he could.
Not to be overlooked was that he also had been a player in Los Angeles. He made the All-Rookie team after arriving from his native Yugoslavia in 1989 in what then was a near-historical jump that predated the current international flood into the NBA. He also had a big role on the Lakers team that reached the 1991 Finals.
The two years in Charlotte were all that separated the battle of North and South. He signed with the Kings as a free agent from there, for the lockout-shortened 1998-99 season, and has been a constant ever since, reaching the All-Star Game in 2001 and remaining an elite passer and integral piece of the league's best offense. And he would have continued as a Los Angeles favorite - lovable Vlade, as nice a guy as you could hope to meet - if not for what came next.
The Kings became good.
Little brother grew up, and what had previously been a one-sided series grew combative. Emotions punched through the roof. O'Neal turned Divac's flopping into an issue, Divac ripped back after the Lakers claimed the historic 2002 Western Conference finals that the best team doesn't always win, and it was on.
"I remember against the Lakers with Charlotte, that was a standing ovation at the Forum," Divac said. "The first couple years with Sacramento, too. But when we started building that rivalry, it turned against me."
In a big way. If the Kings were perceived as whiners, and Divac was seen as carrying the flag. The booing became routine - so routine it would also come against the Clippers.
It hurt Divac at first, because his love for Los Angeles was unwavering, but that passed, and he turned the emotions positive, just as when he was traded to Charlotte. The reactions, he reasoned, meant people inside Staples Center must be concerned about him. It had to be respect.
"I think he almost enjoys it," Kings coach Rick Adelman said. "I don't think he takes it as seriously as some of the people there wished he did."
The real problem becomes that some of the people who take it seriously are family and close friends.
"They can't enjoy the games," Divac said. "They don't go to games down there when we play. They just stay home."
"Because people give them a hard time. They just don't want to be a part of that. ... They just stay away. Until the wave goes away."
Until he retires, in other words. When that happens, Divac and his family might move to Europe for a year or two, but he plans to return to California and live here full time. More specifically, he says without hesitation, in Los Angeles.
The Divacs had a beautiful, warm home in the Pacific Palisades hills for 12 years, before selling not long before the season began. He had bought another piece of land in the same area, quiet and a short drive to the ocean, and intended to build, but the headaches of planning and construction convinced him otherwise. They will buy an existing home, probably also in the Palisades.
Their place in Carmichael is a rental. Divac likes it there, too, and his time in Sacramento as a whole has been nothing short of a joy. But it's not the same.
"I don't see myself living at home," Divac said, meaning his native land, which has become Serbia and Montenegro. "And the only place I feel like home is Los Angeles.
I love this area here (Sacramento), the community. But that's what I feel right now."
That he belongs in Los Angeles, even with the basketball border skirmishes. He knows he can always go back there. Or to Fresno.