When Vlade Divac was drafted by the Los Angeles Lakers in 1989, he was expected to fill the void that Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (KAJ) left on the team after declaring retirement. Los Angeles, spearheaded by owner Dr. Jerry Buss and general manager Jerry West at the draft, decided to take a leap of faith by drafting the big man out of Yugoslavia with their 26th pick in the 1st round.
While the 21-year-old did show glimpses of his potential early on, the Lakers already knew that he wasn't Kareem. Still, he was a starter by his sophomore year and put up 11.2 points and 8.1 rebounds a game — a downgrade from KAJ's services but enough to get the Lakers through.
Divac kept up with the Lakers' pace and style of play thanks to his speed, but his teammates, specifically Magic Johnson, didn't approve of one thing — his smoking addiction.
Divac's smoking habit
Divac's smoking addiction wasn't always at the expense of the Lakers. Before the NBA Draft, the Lakers wanted Divac so much that West asked him to smoke as many cigarettes as possible to scare teams away from drafting him. True enough, Divac (who was expected to be picked in the 15th to early 20s range) ended up falling to the Lakers at 26.
While Divac's smoking addiction might've earned him a spot on the Lakers roster, it also certainly rubbed his teammates the wrong way. According to a Los Angeles Times report published in 2002, the European's smoking habits got in the way of his training regimen. The report was also recently confirmed by Johnson, who admitted that he had to call out Vlade for smoking too much during the season.
"And there were numerous stories that he enjoyed smoking cigarettes more than shooting free throws in practice," wrote Elliot Teaford.
"He used to smoke and I'm like you can't do that and play in the NBA. We're trying to make it to the NBA championship," Johnson said in the 4th episode of Legacy: The True Story of the LA Lakers documentary.
Divac told the Lakers he wanted to retire if he was traded.
As promising as Divac was, the Lakers never really succeeded when he was on the team. Buss and West decided to move forward by targeting Shaquille O'Neal in the free agency market and drafting Kobe Bryant in the 1996 draft class in hopes of forming a duo that would rule the next era in Los Angeles. However, to acquire Bryant, the Lakers needed to trade Divac, which he didn't approve of, so he told the Lakers brass that he would instead retire.
Ultimately, Divac came around after meeting with West and Buss and played a key role for two years with the Hornets. The Serbian big man eventually signed with the Sacramento Kings, where he spent his prime years and solidified his Hall-of-Famer status.