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Divac Isn't Stung by Hornet Deal

Pro basketball: Retirement threat was real, says center, who professes love of L.A. but says Charlotte will become "my team, my city."

July 02, 1996|SCOTT HOWARD-COOPER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

He returned to Los Angeles on Monday with a new close-cropped haircut and a new attitude.

"I'm leaving happy," Vlade Divac said in his first public comments since accepting a trade to the Charlotte Hornets, a deal that becomes official when the moratorium on league business is lifted a week from today. "Happy I could help rebuild the Lakers if they could bring in Shaq."

In Divac's thinking, he took one for the team by calling off a threatened retirement and allowing the transaction that will give the Lakers an additional $3.29 million to pursue Shaquille O'Neal. Rather, he took one for the former team.

He is, essentially, a Laker no more, ending a seven-year association with the only NBA team he has ever known and a city he loves. The final appearance before the home fans comes when Divac and the rest of the Yugoslavian Olympic squad play Wednesday night at Pauley Pavilion against a team called the U.S. All-Stars that is scheduled to include Pig Miller, Duane Cooper and Mike McGee.

The plan to quit was real, Divac said. Going through with it was the tough part, especially when his wife, Ana, encouraged him to reconsider after the Hornets made a push over the weekend. Ultimately, he decided he could also be happy on Hive Drive.

So he will wear the Charlotte letters. And hope the Lakers get their man.

"The first time I heard there was a possibility to go somewhere else, I talked to my wife and said, 'We're good with money, and I'm going to retire,' " Divac said. "I'm stuck on this place. I like Los Angeles so much that's it's tough to leave.

"I feel it's my home here. But she told me, 'You have to play. It's good for you.' I was also thinking about the Lakers. If they can bring Shaq, it would be great for them and the city.

"It's hard for me. I don't know. I don't want to love my kids cross-country. They have friends here too. It wasn't just a matter of another team. But now I'm happy to go there, work hard and find a place for them.

"I'm really happy the last seven years with the Lakers' organization. They're mine. They're always going to be in my heart. But if I go to Charlotte, same thing. My team. My city. But L.A.'s the first one."

Divac knows there really is no "if" to it. He's a Hornet.

It comes willingly, not simply because the Lakers needed to dump him for room under the salary cap. He could have chosen to go to Atlanta, after all, but decided on North Carolina because he loves the charged atmosphere at Charlotte Coliseum and the way Bob Bass, the vice president of basketball operations, and Coach Dave Cowens made him feel wanted during their weekend conversations.

He spent a week there last summer while filming his part of Whoopi Goldberg's movie, "Eddie." And don't forget how Hornet owner George Shinn has always made himself out to be a Divac fan, going so far as to ask for an autographed No. 12 Laker jersey when the teams met in an Oct. 17, 1995, exhibition at Las Vegas.

"It was tough the first couple of days when I heard there was something that might happen," Divac said. "I like the Lakers and I like Los Angeles. Now I'm in a situation where I can help rebuild them."

And Divac's personal renovation?

"I had a great career," he said. "And I want to make my career even better."

As a Hornet.

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