The popular Kings small forward who never stopped moving without the ball, who converted three-pointers from virtually every angle in the building, walked into Sleep Train Arena tentatively, with a bit of a limp.
Peja Stojakovic is 37 years old. Imagine that? He lives in Athens and is the father of three growing youngsters. But advancing age isn’t really the issue.
The bulging disk in his lower back – the one that began causing discomfort during his final season with the Kings – that’s the issue. And now, a bulging disk in his neck that was discovered in 2011, right about the time he was ending his career with the NBA champion Dallas Mavericks, flares up and causes discomfort.
But you won’t hear any complaints from Peja. He was a three-time All-Star, a champion of the Long Distance Shootout, a member of the most memorable Kings teams of the Sacramento era, and all things considered, he says, his is a wonderful life. Not to be forgotten is this: His near-miraculous recovery from the gruesome compound fracture he suffered in his right leg while playing for PAOK of the Greek League – months after being drafted by the Kings in 1996.
“My father (Miodrag) says to me sometimes, ‘Whoever would have thought you would have had the NBA career you did after that kind of leg injury?’ ” the amiable Stojakovic said Sunday while chatting briefly before the Kings-Mavericks game. “The imbalance (from the leg injury) probably didn’t help with the back. But it’s all good. I limit my sports to playing tennis and driving my three kids to school.”
The only other downside to his advancing age and aching joints? The former Kings forward, who was relentlessly teased by his teammates for his European taste for high fashion, these days can be seen wearing suits and jogging shoes, with the sneakers providing additional support for his lower back.
As the Kings were falling short in their latest effort against the Mavs, Stojakovic, who received a rousing standing ovation when he was introduced, sat courtside with new principal owner Vivek Ranadive, speaking and gesturing frequently. The Kings converted only 5 of 18 three-point attempts. The Mavs hit 13 of 31 heaves. No lip-reading allowed, but wouldn’t it have been fascinating to eavesdrop on that conversation?