LOS ANGELES (AFP) - Vlade Divac, who won Olympic basketball silver with Yugoslavia and later with Serbia, lauded the game's ability to bridge divides as he was inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame on Friday (Sept 6).
Drafted into the NBA in 1989 by the Los Angeles Lakers, Divac became one of the first European players to have an impact in the league.
Mentored by Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Magic Johnson, he quickly adapted to the NBA and was the first player born and trained outside the United States to play more than 1,000 games in the league.
Among those he thanked in his induction speech on Friday was his former Yugoslav teammate Toni Kukoc, a Croatian.
"The people of the Balkans are like a dysfunctional family. We may fight and argue, but in the end we are family," said Divac, who spent eight years with the Lakers and played six with the Sacramento Kings - where he is now general manager.
"To me basketball was always about love."
Divac was part of a 2019 Hall of Fame class inducted in Springfield, Massachusets, that also included Sidney Moncrief, Paul Westphal, Jack Sikma, Bobby Jones, Al Attles, Bill Fitch and Teresa Weatherspoon.
Chuck Cooper and Carl Braun were inducted posthumously.
Cooper, who died in 1984, was a Boston Celtics forward who was the first African-American player drafted by the NBA. He made his debut in 1950 at the same time as Earl Lloyd and Nat Clifton.
"The NBA's color barrier was broken, and the game of basketball was forever changed," his son, Chuck Cooper III said.
Sikma, who starred as a center for the Seattle SuperSonics, used his induction remarks to lobby for the NBA's return to the city.
The Sonics were sold and relocated to Oklahoma City in 2008, the franchise now playing as the Oklahoma City Thunder.
"There's a hole in Seattle that needs to be filled," said Sikma, a seven-time All-Star in nine seasons with the Sonics who led the club to their only NBA title in 1979.
"Speaking for all Sonic fans, it's our greatest hope that the NBA will soon find a pathway to bring a Sonics franchise back to Seattle. It is time."