Dressed casually in a white T-shirt and jeans, with a backpack strapped on his broad shoulders, Bogdan Bogdanovic strolled to the front desk of the lavish hotel, dropped a credit card on the counter, then tucked a room key into his pocket as several Kings teammates wandered past.
Finally, he is here. Finally, they meet. Three years after being drafted by the Phoenix Suns, one year after his rights were traded to the Kings, and a few days after leading Fenerbahce to the EuroLeague Championship, the Serbian guard took a deep breath and gave Kings general manager Vlade Divac the good news.
“I think I’m ready. I’m full of confidence,” the rookie told The Bee on Wednesday afternoon. “But it was a very difficult decision. First you have to mentally be ready to go overseas and start a new life. The moment I felt almost 100 percent was after we won the championship. I stayed there for another year because that was the only goal in Europe I had left, because we lost the year before. After that it felt like it was the right time.”
Though the documents were still being finalized when Bogdanovic joined the Kings for the summer league evening tipoff against the Milwaukee Bucks, Bogdanovic spoke like a King with a very old soul. He is a fan of De’Aaron Fox’s speed, appreciates Buddy Hield’s jumper, likes Justin Jackson, Skal Labissiere and all the “bigs.” The youth movement – and his favorable impression of the 25-and-younger crowd – factored into his decision to sign a three-year, $27 million contract; at 24, he fits right in.
But it was the Serbian connection – that long-ago tag team of Divac and Peja Stojakovic – that clinched the deal. In the hearts and minds of famously impassioned fans in their homeland, the Kings officials are the Lennon-McCartney of Serbian basketball.
“The Kings were our favorite because of them,” Bogdanovic said. “I remember waking up early and watching the games with my father as a kid. When we (Serbia) won the world championships in Indianapolis in 2002, I was 10. I remember the great moments of the Atlanta Olympics. And, yes, yes, I know all about the Kings and Lakers. Sixth game in 2002. I know.”
Bogdanovic, who is warm and engaging, and fluent in English, said he learned the language by playing video games. He credits “World of Warcraft” for improving his vocabulary and pronunciation, and he empathizes with those who struggle with his name and are confused about his identity.
When NBA Commissioner Adam Silver announced he had been drafted by the Phoenix Suns in 2014, the image of Croatian star Bojan Bogdanovic was displayed on the screen. More recently, when the news broke that Fenerbahce’s star was leaving for the NBA, he was wildly amused by the number of social media posts claiming that he and Bojan were the same person, that they were brothers, that they played the same position.
“That was pretty funny,” Bogdanovic said. “We both laughed about it. We have the same agent and we play together in the summers.”
They do not, however, play the same position. Bojan is a small forward who recently signed with the Indiana Pacers. Bogdan is a shooting guard, and somewhat of a hybrid. He describes himself as more of a scorer than shooter, believes his court vision allows him to create for teammates, and says his solid ball-handling skills enable him to drive past defenders and attack the basket.
“I am a pretty confident guy,” he said, “but I have to work on finishing at the rim. For sure I will need some time adapting to the speed of the game. It’s not the same in Europe. The players in the NBA are stronger and more physical. But I think I’m ready.”
Unlike many of today’s NBA rookies, who are still in their teens when they enter the league, Bogdanovic is a physically mature, finished product. A legitimate 6-foot-6, he has large hands, long arms, and a 6-11 wingspan – a major asset for deflecting and stealing balls in the passing lanes. His length, instincts and intense preparation help him compensate for average athleticism and foot speed.
While Bogdanovic has spent much of his spare time these past few weeks familiarizing himself with the Kings roster, his new teammates have been doing their homework, too.
“We were eating dinner,” said Fox the other night, “and talking about the roster, and we forgot we had signed him. It was like, ‘Oh, man.’ We had never seen him play. We actually watched some stuff on him. Me, Skal, Buddy, Justin (Jackson) was like, ‘Man, he can really shoot. Buddy went, ‘He can really play.’ It was cool.”
Bogdanovic, who received a tour of Golden 1 Center and met Vince Carter, Zach Randolph and George Hill earlier in the week in Sacramento, is eager to put on his Kings jersey and get on the court when he returns to Northern California in mid-September.
“There was a real energy when I was there (Sacramento),” he added, “and I think a lot of that is because of what the young guys bring. From everything I see and hear, I already like them. This was the right time for me.”