Nenad Krstic’s basketball journey didn’t begin with the luxuries that accompany AAU basketball.
Unlike most American-born players, he missed out on the exotic travel and the free apparel. Such treats didn’t exist during Krstic’s childhood days in Serbia.
Krstic’s unlikely NBA story started with pick-up games on cement-cracked playgrounds and inside underground gyms as a lanky teenager in Kraljevo, then a part of Yugoslovia. Basketball served as a much-needed diversion that helped take his mind off the battle that ripped apart his war-torn country in the early 1990s.
"It was always something in sports, especially in tough times during the war,” Krstic said. "So it was always being in sports rather than being in the streets.”
But Krstic, the Thunder’s newest 7-foot center, has come a long way since having to lace up a pair of worn-out Converse because his cash-strapped family couldn’t afford to purchase him a quality set of shoes.
The Thunder signed Krstic to a three-year, $15.6 million deal that launches a new chapter in his NBA career. Krstic will not be in uniform tonight against Golden State and cannot suit up until the final paperwork is completed on his work visa.
But he is eager to embark on his second NBA stint. After four seasons in New Jersey, he started this one in Russia. Krstic was one of a handful of players to flee to Europe when overseas clubs outbid NBA teams for talent.
"I know it’s just going to take some time,” said Krstic, who scored 13 points with 12 rebounds in his final game with the Nets on April 16. "Two weeks ago I played a game in Russia, and all of a sudden I’m in the NBA again in the middle of the season... I’m feeling great and I can’t wait to start playing again.”
Thunder general manager Sam Presti had his eye on Krstic as a potential free agent target next summer but finalized the deal 32 games into the season to bolster an injury-plagued and underachieving frontcourt.