Late in his rookie season, Vlade Divac was enjoying the celebrity atmosphere of the Los Angeles Lakers' locker room when general manager Jerry West called out his name. "Hey, Vlade," West said. "You see that guy over there? That's what I want you to look like next year."
Divac turned and saw wrestler Hulk Hogan. Even though Divac's English was still elementary, Hogan's muscles transcended the language barrier. Divac understood what West was saying. West wanted Divac to spend his off-season bulking up with weights.
It didn't happen. Divac's condition was like his practice habits, which Lakers assistant Bill Bertka described as "limp." It was not all Divac's fault. He was obligated to play for his native Yugoslavia in the world championships in Argentina in August, which cut into his conditioning time.
But it is evident that Divac was partly responsible for his lack of conditioning. First he lost his passport in Argentina. So instead of returning to Los Angeles for conditioning work, he went to Yugoslavia to get another passport. That should have been a diversion of a couple of days, but Lakers coach Mike Dunleavy said Divac did not show up for two weeks.
Dunleavy already had announced that Divac would replace Mychal Thompson in the Lakers' starting lineup. "I wanted to pump him up," Dunleavy said.
But pumping him up resulted in little pumping by Divac, who has huffed and puffed his way through training camp. And in the process, he has put his starting job in jeopardy.
"I was disappointed that he was not in camp in great condition," Dunleavy said. "If I'm not comfortable with Vlade starting, then I won't start him."
Around the league
Nets: Nothing is new in New Jersey's negotiations with No. 1 draft pick Derrick Coleman. Coleman wants $16-million for five years; the Nets have not budged from their offer of $14-million for five years. The Nets say they have no plans to trade Coleman.
Hawks: Forward Dominique Wilkins was, surprisingly, upset after a 194-166 victory over the wild and crazy Denver Nuggets last week. "I was frustrated," he said. "I did all my dunks by halftime."