It has been a controversial week for the Sacramento Kings, but Tuesday night served as an opportunity for celebration. At halftime of the team's home game against the Oklahoma City Thunder, the franchise honored three-time All-Star Peja Stojakovic, the team's small forward from 1998 to 2006, by retiring his No. 16 jersey. The short ceremony afforded the 37-year-old Stojakovic an opportunity to thank the fans, the coach and general manager who gave him his chance to excel, and the ownership group that invited him to accept this honor.
You can watch that speech here. Keep an eye out for attending former teammates Vlade Divac, Doug Christie, Bobby Jackson, Scot Pollard, and Brad Miller:
Owner Vivek Ranadive probably appreciated that Stojakovic opened his remarks with a show of thanks, because he's had a rough week. After he and general manager Pete D'Alessandro opted to fire well-regarded head coach Michael Malone on Sunday, Ranadive has been hit with considerable criticism for meddling in the basketball affairs of his team despite having very little experience in the sport. Regardless, this night was about Stojakovic, not Ranadive, and the fans seemed to realize as much.
Stojakovic joined the Kings for the 1998-99 season, two years after the Kings made him the 14th-overall pick in a loaded 1996 draft. Like many rookies, the 6-10 Serb struggled in that lockout season but improved as a key bench player in his sophomore campaign. But Stojakovic really broke out when he entered the starting lineup in 2000-01, averaging 20.1 points on 40 percent shooting from beyond the arc and finishing second to Tracy McGrady in Most Improved Player voting.
That season proved to be a precursor to true stardom. From 2001-02 to 2003-04, he made three straight All-Star teams, won two Three-Point Shootout titles at All-Star Weekend, and earned All-NBA Second Team honors and finished fourth in MVP voting in 2004. Those are also three of the most successful seasons in franchise history, with the Kings coming within one win and several bad calls of earning a spot in the 2002 NBA Finals.
Stojakovic will be remembered as one of the top shooters of his generation and a player who, along with Dirk Nowitzki and others, helped prove that foreign-born players could equal the NBA's American-born elite. His No. 16 is the 11th jersey to be retired by the Kings franchise, although he is just the fourth player to earn the honor for his play in Sacramento.
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