Basketball can bring people together. Fathers and sons. Different races. Different religions. None of that matters on the court.
A decade ago, Vlade Divac and the United Nations started using basketball to bring together youth divided by the war that tore apart the former Yugoslavia.
Divac is now enjoying the success of the program, something he talked about with Ian Thomsen of Sports Illustrated in a real must-read story.
“What had happened was Vlade and I were in the [NBA’s] New York offices on a Sunday, where he was shooting a commercial for the United Nations,” recalled Kim Bohuny, the senior vice president of international basketball operations who essentially serves as the NBA’s global ambassador. “A gentleman from the U.N. said, ‘We don’t know what to do — we’ve tried music, we’ve tried soccer, and nothing is working to get our young children together. We think the only thing that could possibly work is basketball. Do you think the NBA would be interested in bringing together young children from all six countries?’ “
Divac worked with the U.N. and Toni Kukoc — Divac and Kukoc had been Yugoslavian teammates who no longer spoke as Divac was now Serbian and Kukoc Croatian.
From the first camp held in neutral Italy and bringing together youth from the six countries that had once been Yugoslavia the Basketball Without Borders program has grown to a worldwide phenomenon.
Last month, another camp was held in Rio de Janeiro; another camp will be held next month in South Africa. More than 1,600 teenage stars — hand-picked as the best in their regions — will have attended these BWB camps over the last decade. Seventeen have been drafted into the NBA, including Marc Gasol, Andrea Bargnani, Danilo Gallinari, Nicolas Batum and Omri Casspi.
Divac had a very good NBA career, but the legacy of this program may be his biggest gift to basketball. And to youth in troubled countries.