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.
Not exactly sure how a professional basketball player sleeping with a prostitute got to be news — you don’t even want to know how often that happens — but here you go.
Former Chicago Bull and Croatian basketball legend Toni Kukoc’s name was tied as a “john” to a big prostitution ring in his native country. The scandal apparently reaches all levels of Croatian society — sort of their Heidi Fleiss — where models and young starlets were pimped out at high prices.
One lady named Kukoc as a client, so the Croatian Times called the biggest basketball star in his nation’s history to ask him about it. I don’t totally get his comment, but I think the bottom line is he doesn’t care.
“I was in worse situations in life. What should I do? Return home to Split? Of course I will stay in Osijek,” Kukoc told the media after his name emerged in connection with the elite prostitution ring headed by Nebojsa Perunovic Pance who was arrested last week.
Kukoc has been in worse situations. He went through the bloody and ugly civil war of the former Yugoslavia, when Croatia became a country, and the struggles that followed. Plus, he had to practice against Michael Jordan, who was not happy he was on the team. So you think a little prostitution scandal is going to scare him?
Kukoc got three championship rings, made about $61 million in the NBA and now just golfs and does charity work. If I were in his shoes, I’d shrug too.
Charlie Rosen — the current author former CBA (the D-League before the D-League) coach and assistant to Phil Jackson at that level — took on an oldie but a goodie today: When will Kobe Bryant’s age catch up with him.
He compares Kobe to the Michael Jackson career arc. Which is nice but not the interesting part of the article.
The interesting part is Rosen’s claim for why Jordan went and played baseball.
MJ played baseball during the 1993-94 season when he was 30 and 31 for a reason that is not widely known. The Bulls GM, Jerry Krause, drafted Toni Kukoc in the second round of the 1990 draft, knowing that he was committed to playing in Europe for the next few seasons. Meanwhile, Krause boasted that Kukoc would prove to be one of the greatest players in NBA history once he came to Chicago. In fact, Krause privately predicted that Kukoc would be even better than Jordan, and that the Bulls would win multiple championships with Kukoc and without His Airness.
Jordan, of course, took exception to Krause’s braggadocio, which was clearly designed by Krause to promote himself as a genius. Indeed, blame Krause for the ruthless manner with which both Jordan and Scottie Pippen absolutely manhandled Kukoc when they faced Croatia in the 1992 Barcelona Olympics.
Take this with a grain of salt. In fact, I’d get some really good Himalayan pink salt to go with this one, you’re going to need the good stuff. But it’s interesting.