NBA legend Vlade Divac talks to Sky Sports
On Tuesday night the Oklahoma City Thunder take on the Philadelphia 76ers in Manchester. Ahead of the pre-season game at the Phones 4u Arena, we talked to a true European NBA legend...
By Rob Lancaster
Last Updated: 07/10/13 11:05am
However, that hasn't always been the case. The path to the States was laid by a select few, one of which happened to be Vlade Divac.
At 7ft 1in tall the Serbian was hardly going to go unnoticed after being drafted by the Los Angeles Lakers in the late 1980s. Yet while he had to deal with a change of basketball culture once he became part of such a storied franchise, one of the biggest hurdles was simply dealing with being away from home.
Life in LA couldn't be more different from what he had been used to in the then Yugoslavia, while he arrived in the States able to speak next to no English.
"It was a big transition," Divac, whose English is now nigh-on perfect these days, told Sky Sports about becoming a Laker.
"After playing in Europe for three or four years, it was very different that first couple of years in the NBA. It was a different style of basketball and also a different culture.
"But I was lucky enough to be part of the Los Angeles Lakers, one of the best organisations in sport. They helped me to adjust very quickly.
"Everybody helped with the Lakers. I was lucky to have Magic Johnson, one of the best players, on the team. That was a big help."
Divac spent seven years with the Lakers, including being selected to the all-NBA Rookie Team at the end of his debut campaign, before being traded away to the Charlotte Hornets.
He was sacrificed to gain the draft rights for Kobe Bryant, a move that while understandable, left the centre in a tough situation.
"In the 1996-97 season it was difficult for me personally, but if I was in that position with the management of the Lakers then I would probably have done the same thing," he admitted.
"My last year of my career I went back to the Lakers and he (Kobe) was there. It was a great opportunity to play with him - he's definitely one of the best players in the history of the game. It was fun."
After the Hornets came a highly-successful spell with the Sacramento Kings, as he helped turn one of the worst teams in the league into a perennial play-off contender alongside the likes of Mike Bibby, Chris Webber and his compatriot, the sharp-shooting Predrag Stojakovic.
Divac, who had his number 21 jersey retired by the Kings in 2009, was known as a play-making big man on the court, but he didn't stop with the assists once his career was over.
Never forgetting his roots, the 45-year-old has dedicated himself to helping those in his country less fortunate than himself, focusing particularly on offering aid to refugees in Serbia.
"I started a foundation while I lived in the United States, and now it's developed in the last four or five years," he stated. "I wanted to do something off the court to help people in need."
Right now, though, Divac's focus is back on basketball.
As an NBA legend he is helping to promote the sport for the 2013 Global Games (formerly the Europe Live Tour) as fixtures take place in Brazil, China, Philippines, Spain, Taiwan and Turkey.
The United Kingdom has also been chosen as a venue, and on Tuesday night Kevin Durant and the Oklahoma City Thunder will face the Philadelphia 76ers in a pre-season encounter in Manchester.
"It's a great thing," Divac enthuses about the NBA's promotion overseas.
"I had the opportunity when I was player to feature in one of these games, in Paris, when we came to play against a European teams.
"It's a great thing that the NBA does to promote the sport of basketball. Manchester is a football city, but basketball is a global game now and very popular."
So too is Divac, one of only six players to manage more than 13,000 points, 9,000 rebounds, 3,000 assists and 1,500 blocked shots in his NBA career. The numbers don't lie - the giant from Prijepolje made a huge impression both on and off the court, paving the way for many more from Europe to follow.
Tickets for the NBA Global Game at Manchester's Phones 4u Arena are still available through the NBA's official secondary ticketing partner, StubHub. Visit www.stubhub.co.uk for more information and to purchase tickets