Editor’s Note: As the NBA shutdown continues (though there are signs of progress!), we’ll be taking a look back at Kings history through the Cincinnati Royals and Kansas City days to identify the best players for each letter of the alphabet. We hope you enjoy KANGZ, A-Z.
It’s strange to think that a player who started his career with the Los Angeles Lakers would be become so inextricable from the past and present of the Sacramento Kings, but that is the case with Vlade Divac.
Despite spending the first nine years of his career elsewhere, Divac is a King through and through. Along with Rick Adelman and Chris Webber, Divac helped turn the Kings from an also-ran into a Western Conference contender during the second stage of his playing career.
Divac was one of the first European big men to spend the prime of his career in the NBA, and was the first foreign born and trained player to play 1,000 games in the league. He set a new standard for what a big man could do in terms of his ability to facilitate for others, not just out of the post, and his stylish delivery on his passes. It’s impossible to watch a player Nikola Jokic, a fellow Serbian, and not see the through-line of how each center approaches the game.
Divac truly had every pass in his arsenal: bouncers to weak-side cutters, skip passes to open shooters, football passes down the length of the court, and so many more. His ability to create at the center position, combined with Webber’s similar facility at power forward, enabled the Kings to run a more beautiful offense than any other team at the time. He was a modern five before such a concept existed.
It would be one thing if Divac was all sizzle and no substance, but his performance consistently contributed to winning basketball in Sacramento. The Kings made the playoffs in each of Divac’s six seasons with the team, advancing as far as the Western Conference Finals in 2002 and making it to the conference semifinals three other times.
Divac averaged 11.4 points, 7.8 rebounds, and 3.7 assists in 30.1 minutes per game in Sacramento. His net rating was positive every year, peaking at +10.0 in both 2001-02 and 2002-03. He was an All-Star in 2001 and remarkably durable, missing only six games over six seasons. It came as no surprise that his jersey was retired by the Kings in 2009.
Much of Divac’s team success came internationally. As part of the Yugoslovian national team, he won EuroBasket in 1989, 1991, and 1995. His team won the FIBA World Championship in 1990 and 2002, and he also won Olympic silver medals in 1988 and 1996. That international resume combined with a lengthy NBA career earned him induction in the Basketball Hall of Fame in 2019.
If Divac’s last action as a member of the Kings organization had taken place in 2004 when he left the team, he likely be the most beloved player in team history. Even though Sacramento didn’t win a title in his tenure, he helped make the Kings relevant and even feared for a time, and he inspired a new generation of European players. His devotion to the franchise and the community in addition to his sustained productivity would have made him a local legend.
But Divac’s Sacramento legacy didn’t end there, and no discussion of the former player can be complete without acknowledging his uninspiring reign in the front office. Since he came back to the franchise in 2015, not only have the Kings failed to make the postseason, but they have executed some of the worst transactions in the league, including the 2015 salary dump to Philadelphia and selecting Marvin Bagley in the 2018 draft, not to mention firing Dave Joerger after the team appeared to be on the upswing in 2019.
In essence, the dichotomy of Vlade Divac boils down to this: A talented and entertaining player whose skills have not translated to his second career path.
In terms of players to don the Sacramento jersey, Divac is near-unparalleled. His greatest achievement as an executive would be to let his playing days take center stage and become the lasting memory of his time with the Kings.