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Divac on Mission to Help Refugees


Divac on Mission to Help Refugees Staff Reporters

The last time Vlade Divac was at Jamsil Gymnasium in Seoul, he was a member of Yugoslavia's men's Basketball team, which claimed silver at the 1988 Summer Olympic Games.

Divac was just 20 years old at the time and at that point, his life was about to dramatically change.

The following year he was on his way from Yugoslavia to Los Angeles, after being drafted into the NBA by the Lakers, and his homeland would soon suffer from more than a decade of civil war that would see Yugoslavia torn apart.

Divac would go on to have a very successful 16-year NBA career with the Lakers, Charlotte Hornets and Sacramento Kings, becoming one of only four players to compile 13,000 points, 9,000 rebounds, 3,000 assists and 1,500 blocked shots.

The years during which Divac was in North America in the NBA were marred by violence, ethnic conflict and war crimes in the Balkans.

Divac became a hero to people in Serbia and did his best to try to help those in need back home starting in the late 1990s. By the time Divac had retired in 2005, the Yugoslav wars had ended, but a massive refugee problem remained.

In his retirement, he has focused more of his energy on helping refugees in Serbia - of which there are still more than 4,000 - and around the world.

Divac arrived in Seoul this past weekend for the NBA Asia Challenge along with former NBA players Dominique Wilkins, Robert Horry, Tim Hardaway and Kareem Abdul Jabbar, and recalled his first visit to Korea in 1988.

"Well it was a long time ago, and I didn't recognize anything except this gym. We played the finals here in 1988 and I got my silver medal. I was very excited," Divac told the Korea Times after practice Friday.

The seven-foot center was taken in the first round of the NBA draft in 1989 and was selected for the NBA All-Rookie team. Over his career, he became known as a reliable, productive center, although he was only ever named to the all-star team once. He had some of his best days with the Kings where he starred with fellow countryman Peja Stojakovic and Chris Webber. He returned to the Lakers for one final season in 2004-05 before a back injury caused him to retire.

In 2007, Divac started Humanitarian Foundation Divac to provide financial, material and other resources for refugees and internally displaced persons.

Divac explained that he was compelled to help refugees after seeing how it still remains a serious issue in Serbia.

"The year when I left my country, there was still peace. The year after, the war broke out, a lot of people lost their homes, lost their families. When I go back 20 years later I still find people living in refugee camps. So I tried to help them find homes," Divac said.

"We bought 100 empty houses across the country for these families. So we raised money for 100 houses for 100 families. We still have 4,000 people still living in refugee camps. With the (United Nations Refugee Agency), we made a team and I think with the government of Serbia we can try to help those people."

Divac also started the "You Can Too" program. According to his Web site, www.divac.com, its mission is to enable refugees and internally displaced persons, still living in refugee camps, to realize their rights to housing, work, material security, and regain and empower their own self-confidence and personal dignity.

Divac has made an effort to better understand the plight of refugees and even put himself in their position on a few occasions.

"I've gone many times and a couple times I even stayed there for a couple days and lived with them. I wanted to really try to get their feelings, because I didn't want to hear about it from someone else," he said.

"But what stuck in my mind was a girl, she was five years old when she arrived in the camp. Now she's 25 and she has her own kid who was born in the camp. That was very sad."

Divac says that he has extended the scope of his organization to help refugees all over the world.

"It's worldwide. When I started my foundation it was mostly focused on kids. Kids were most affected by the war. Everywhere around the world, there are still a lot of conflicts, a lot of natural disasters, Katrina in New Orleans, the Tsunami, so I wanted to try to help those people also. So when I came back home we set up a focus to help those people also."

Divac credited friends and teammates with helping him with his objectives.

"A lot of my teammates from the NBA , even commissioner David Stern, have helped. A lot of people send their donations and its really moving forward."


Author: Fox Sports
Author's Website: http://www.foxsports.com
Added: September 7, 2009

 

 
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