As he gets ready for his induction into the Basketball Hall of Fame here in Springfield, Vlade Divac scrolled through a Rolodex of memories on Thursday afternoon, from his time as a star with the Yugoslavian national team through his arrival in Los Angeles with the Lakers and his years in Charlotte and Sacramento.
But there is one nugget of history—more television history than basketball history—from back in 1990, that remains attached Divac and is, shall we say, less than Hall-of-Fame caliber. That would be the Schick razor ad Divac did with teammates Mychal Thompson and A.C. Green.
Here, in its glory:
When he arrived in the U.S., Divac was a novelty, a rare international star washing up on the NBA’s shores. He was also rare because, 30 years ago, NBA players didn’t often wear beards. But here was Divac, newly arrived from Yugoslavia, playing his entire rookie season with a beard.
Schick, hearkening back to the company’s old Joe Namath advertising ploy in which Namath got $10,000 from Schick to shave off his mustache, saw an opportunity. Divac didn’t shave on camera, but the ad opens with Divac, newly shorn, examining himself in a mirror as Thompson introduces him.
Divac Was Well-Known For His Beard as a Rookie
The ad helped expose Divac across the country and helped the legend of his already-popular beard grow. I asked Divac if doing it helped him get recognized more. “You mean doing the commercial or shaving it off?” he joked.
He acknowledged that the ad helped boost his popularity but said what really raised his profile was the comfort he eventually felt in the NBA. After his rookie season, in which he averaged 8.5 points, Divac became a starter for the Lakers and averaged 11.2 points and 8.1 rebounds, shooting 56.5 percent from the field.
“The ad was something that every team does, every player does during their careers,” Divac said. “It was me at that time. But if I have to be recognized by a commercial, then I wasn’t a good player. I am happy that people recognize me as a player.”
The Lakers Helped Divac in his Transition to America
But the ad did signify a change in Divac after a tough first season. “It was very difficult,” he said. “I didn’t speak English. The game of basketball, it was the same game but different style of basketball. It was very different.”
It also helped that Divac landed, originally, with the Lakers. His line in the commercial (“No problem”) was a play on his habit of falling back on that phrase when he lacked the English words to say what he really meant. In Lakers’ circles at the time, when Divac said, “No problem,” team officials knew there likely was a problem. The Lakers helped him work through his issues adjusting.
“I ended up in a great situation,” Divac said. “I ended up with the best franchise in the entire U.S. sports, you know. Having an owner like Dr. Buss, teammates like Magic Johnson, (James) Worthy, A.C. Green and when I came in, they kept Kareem (Abdul-Jabbar) even though he retired, to work with me. They did everything possible to help me adjust my game to the NBA.”
And, of course, once he was done with the Schick ad, Divac began growing back his beard the next day.