As a group of the greatest Sacramento Kings in franchise history sat at half court of Arco Arena — cowbells ringing in the distance — during halftime of a game against the New Orleans Hornets, Geoff Petrie got up and said a few words about the guest of honor, Vlade Divac.
Among the many wonderful things Petrie and everyone else said about Divac's friendship, his humor, and his style of play, this stuck out.
“When Vlade arrived in 1999,” Petrie said, “it’s no coincidence that that’s when the winning began.”
Vlade Divac is the greatest center in Sacramento Kings history, and one of the first players that comes to mind with this franchise. He had a flair in his game that made everyone want to play with him, and he brought out the best in others. But he is remembered for his reign of success in Sacramento. That’s what earned him his jersey in the rafters after six years in a Kings uniform.
During Divac’s tenure as a player, the Kings made the playoffs all six seasons, and he only missed six games total. The team won back-to-back Pacific Division titles in 2002 and 2003 and won at least one playoff series four consecutive seasons. Divac was an All-Star in 2001, and also won a gold medal in the FIBA World Championship in 2002 alongside Stojakovic for the former Yugoslavia. That stretch marked Divac’s peak as a professional basketball player.
On this day in Kings history, eleven years ago, Divac had his jersey retired. Timeless 21, as Grant Napear referred to him, became the ninth player in franchise history to earn the honor.
The ceremony was simulcast in Serbia for Divac’s home country to celebrate along with him, and mentions of his Serbian heritage dominated the ceremony.
Scot Pollard joked about how Divac had a Serbian age and an American age, and he likely shaved a few years off his birth certificate when he came to the USA. But upon visiting Serbia two years prior, Pollard could confirm exactly how old Divac was thanks to his baby pictures — which were cave drawings.
Chris Webber recounted what a delightful time he had in Serbia on that same trip, noting that as Divac’s brother, he was the only black Serbian, and that the people should call him Chris Webberic. Peja Stojakovic, the other Serbian legend to play for Sacramento, emphasized how much Divac inspired him and a whole generation of Serbian players to love basketball and become great.
The Kings, unfortunately, couldn’t honor Divac with a win on the night of his jersey retirement. Beno Udrih gave Sacramento a two-point lead with 1.7 seconds left on a tough jumper, but Rasual Butler hit a 3-pointer for the Hornets as time expired.
It was fitting that Divac ended his halftime address by saying, “Thank you Sacramento, yours forever.” No one could have known then the role that Divac would assume for this franchise in the years to come, but he has remained loyal to the Kings ever since.
It can be hard to separate the memories of Divac as a player from his work as a front-office executive, but through it all, Divac has proudly represented Sacramento. He is inextricably linked to the past, present, and future of this organization, and it is worth remembering one of his noteworthy moments on this day.