NEW YORK DAILY NEWS
Friday, December 11, 2015, 1:21 PM
PORTLAND — Vlade Divac has a trick he’d like to teach Kristaps Porzingis, because the Kings GM always looked out for his fellow Europeans in the NBA.
“Talk to referees in his own language,” Divac, a Serbian, relays in the hallways of Sleep Train Arena. “You say something in your own language, you can say whatever you want, and your frustrations will go away. But they’re not going to fine you.”
By all accounts, Porzingis’ acclimation into the NBA, and — just as impressive — into the American culture, has been a smooth process. The 20-year-old is a classical European player in the sense that he’s a big man who can shoot from long range, but he’s also a thunderous dunker with perfect English and an appreciation for hip hop.
It’s almost like he’s a hybrid, a Euro fusion. It was different for Divac, who considers himself an NBA trailblazer for overseas players. As a rookie with the Lakers in 1989, Divac jumped into ‘Showtime’ prioritizing fundamentals over flair. So when he finished a fastbreak with a lay up, Divac didn’t understand why Magic Johnson would bust his chops for not dunking.
“I got the two points anyway,” he’d respond.
This was before Dirk Nowitzki and Pau Gasol, before 100 international players were on opening night NBA rosters this season.
“I think it’s much easier now. I had a tough time. I had to work for all of those guys. I opened the door. I went the tough way,” Divac says. “Now, it’s changed a lot. Now you’re not afraid of drafting very high European guys. And you know they’re going to come the same year. I think I was the first one to be drafted in the first round and came (to the NBA) the same year.”
Divac says he scouted Porzingis in the shadows, attending games overseas without the Latvian aware of his presence. The Kings owned the sixth pick in the July draft and chose another center, Willie Cauley-Stein, but Divac insists the Kings’ board had Porzingis in the top-2.
“He was up there for us,” he says.
Divac has also served as a second-hand mentor to Porzingis, without the 47-year-old’s knowledge until being told by a reporter Thursday. During training camp and preseason, Porzingis relied heavily on the advice and companionship of Serbian teammate Sasha Vujacic — a partner in shared backgrounds and video games.
Eleven years prior as a rookie with the Lakers, Vujacic did the same with Divac, who at that time was wrapping up a decorated playing career. To go back even further, Porzingis has probably been taught lessons from Magic Johnson.
“(Vujacic) was my fourth kid. I had three at home. He was my fourth one,” Divac says. “That’s what you have to do. Magic took me under his wings. My job was to do the same thing with our rookies. So I’m glad that Sasha used some of those things to help him out.”
Still, neither Vujacic nor Divac dealt with the type of pressure or attention facing Porzingis, who is coming off the worst two-game stretch of his short career. The 7-3 forward shot a combined 6-for-19 in losses to Utah and Sacramento, as the Knicks (10-14) have dropped eight of their last 10 heading into Saturday’s road trip finale in Portland. If these are normal growing pains for a rookie, they’re treated differently for Porzingis because of the spotlight.
For the type of experience and advice, Porzingis is better off seeking out Carmelo Anthony.
“It’s New York. It’s New York. If he was somewhere else the hype wouldn’t be that,” Anthony says. “So that’s another part — being in New York and dealing with that. I know what it feels like when you’re high. I know what it feels like when you’re low. The only thing I can be is a guy you can bounce some ideas off of and give some advice to.”