The Sacramento Kings have fans from all over the world, but some of the proudest fans outside of Sacramento hail from Serbia, the country that brought Kings greats Vlade Divac and Peja Stojakovic stateside.
While Divac and Stojakovic have transitioned to front office roles in Sacramento, their native ties are still strong with the addition of Serbian players Bogdan Bogdanovic and Nemanja Bjelica to the Kings roster.
Divac, Stojakovic, Bogdanovic and Bjelica are some of the players young fans like 14-year-old Isaija Pantic look up to in Serbia. Isaija picked up his Kings fandom from his father, Zeljko Pantic, who wakes up at 4 a.m. in Serbia to catch the Kings playing all the way across the country. Zeljko has used basketball and the Kings as a form of distraction for his young son after a serious health scare two years ago.
A routine eye exam in June 2017 led to the revelation that Isaija, 13-years-old at the time, had a brain tumor. After an emergency, five-hour surgery in Serbia, Isaija had to wait for more lab testing.
Four months after Isaija’s initial surgery, another brain tumor was discovered. After more mixed diagnoses from labs in Serbia and London, Zeljko decided he would try to bring his son to the United States for testing. The family turned to fundraising to finance the trip and that’s when Serbian basketball icon and Kings General Manager Vlade Divac stepped in.
Divac, along with fellow Serb and Kings guard Bogdano Bogdanovic, helped raise $150,000 to fund Isaija’s trip to at Children’s National Medical Center in Washington, D.C. After another successful surgery, Isaija’s tissue was sent to UC San Francisco’s genetics lab for testing. After a mutation was discovered, Isaija was put through a successful clinical trial that eradicated what was ailing him.
It’s been about five months since Isaija has his last tumor removed and this week the Kings helped him and his family celebrate by inviting them to practice and to both home games against Portland and Denver. Isaija spent the afternoon laughing with Marvin Bagley III, throwing up lobs to Willie Cauley-Stein and high-fiving his favorite player, De’Aaron Fox.
Bogdanovic delivered on his promise to play Isiaja one-on-one once the teen was in good health and the 14-year-old Kings fan pulled off the upset win by a final of 5-4 with the help of his brother, Jeremija.
It was a week the Pantic family won’t soon forget and thanks in part to Divac and Bogdanovic, Isiaja will be able to share these stories with his young, basketball loving friends back home in Serbia.
Follow the conversation with Lina Washington on Twitter and Instagram at @LWashingtonTV and on Facebook.com/LWashingtonABC10.
WATCH MORE: We're not crying. You're crying. OK, we are, too. But how could you not cry when stories like this one happens? During a white elephant gift exchange during half time of The Sacramento Kings game, the organization surprised Shelby and Tressa Kropp with the best Christmas gift of all.