The former Los Angeles Lakers player Vlade Divac was thrilled to meet with the Swiss Guard to discuss sports and learn about their work at the Vatican.
“I was very excited to be here, and they have a basketball team here with very tall people,” the 7-foot, 1-inch Divac joked in the Swiss Guard's barracks.
“I also told them that if they need a coach, I can help them out,” he told CNA April 18.
It was the first time the world-famous player met with members of the Pope's protective force. He came with his wife, Ana, and a small group of participants from the TEDx Conference on Religious Freedom, which is what brought him to town.
“They do a lot of hard work to protect the people at the Vatican,” remarked Divac from his seat atop a centuries old cannon. He was taking a break after a brief tour of their facilities and armory.
One of the Swiss guards, Corporal Urs Breitenmoser, said it was “very awesome and great fun” to receive the former professional basketball player at their barracks.
The guards have a small basketball team that plays once or twice a week against teams from around Rome. Corporal Breitenmoser is their center, the same position Divac played for 16 years in the NBA.
“I’m a big basketball fan and I’ve been following the NBA since the 90s, so I have a pretty good idea of what happened at that time and who Vlade Divac was,” he said.
“So for me it was an incredible personal meeting and for him also since he got to know the Swiss guards, our history, and to see how we do our service for the Holy Father.”
Divac gave Breitenmoser and nearly a dozen other off-duty guards an impromptu lesson on the hook shot. They also talked basketball and about his career at the Los Angeles Lakers and Sacramento Kings, as well as his “retired” life.
Divac is in Rome to speak alongside others, including singer Gloria Estefan, graffiti artist Mohammed Ali and Soumaya Slim, museum curator and daughter of the world’s richest man.
They are participating in an event called TEDxViadellaConciliazione. The "x" in the title indicates the meeting was organized independently of the TED organization, while the last half of the title refers to the main street that leads to the Vatican, where the event was held.
The TED concept -- which stands for Technology, Entertainment and Design -- began in 1984 and it is centered on inviting speakers to give talks on “ideas worth spreading” in 18 minutes or less.
Divac does not play for the Lakers anymore, but he is still involved in sports and is president of the Olympic Committee of Serbia, his homeland.
He now runs Humanitarian Organization Divac, a group that began helping civil war refugees and orphans find homes five years ago.
“We also work with the youth and help them achieve their dreams,” said Divac.
His foundation is currently raising money to help schools in Serbia. He hopes for the peaceful co-existence of people, regardless of religion.
“He is up there,” said Divac, “and we should do things better while we’re here.”
He mentioned that he would one day return to the Vatican and the Swiss Guard for a visit.
“They gave me a jersey with their logo, the number 21, and I promised them to give them an original jersey next time I come,” he said.