We lived close to BYU's Marriott Center, so he began coming over after home basketball games. The place seats 23,000. The current men's team draws about half that on a good night. When Kresho was playing, the place was packed.
He played carefree, unorthodox. He had a patented knees-up, two-handed scoop layup with which he'd finish off a fast break (which he led as a 6' 11" "point guard").
As the Church's presiding elder in then-Yugoslavia, he had a similar reckless abandon in following the Spirit. He was fearless in following promptings.
When our families both lived in the D.C. area (and he was serving as deputy ambassador for Croatia to the United States), he called me one fast Sunday morning and asked if we would fast for him. He said, "I've been to doctor and he tells me I'm going on a trip, and where I'm going I don't need to pack a suitcase."
He had been diagnosed with non-Hodgkin's lymphoma. He endured a bone marrow transplant. (He later told me that if he'd known what it was going to be like, he would rather have died). But he died of complications related to the cure: with the cancer gone, but his immune system suppressed, a herpes virus (like mouth cankers) filled up his internal organs and he wasted away. The last time I saw him, in the hospital, he couldn't speak. He was emaciated. Because of atrophy, his arms and huge hands were contracted near his face. He managed a smile, winked and gave me a thumbs up. As I left, and turned around one last time, he did it again. The big guy was at peace with his passing and trying to encourage me.
After my mission to Germany in 1978, he comandeered our family back to Yugoslavia where we spent a week of "Pentacost": cottage meetings around the country with Church members -- an extension of my mission.
He would swoop in early morning singing, "Here is coach coming in, hurry, hurry" (a play on words -- the song was from the movie "Paint Your Wagon" and referred to a stagecoach, but Kresho was referring to himself -- as basketball coach). He called my father "Boss" (pronounced "Boce") and my mother "Sister Ann" (pronounced "Seester"). He was an incessant tease.
We shared amazing spiritual outpourings when he would ask my dad or me for a priesthood blessing before returning from Utah to Yugoslavia. He always said, "Now that the windows are open, shouldn't we all have blessings?"
When we visited basketball practices with his teams in Bologna, Italy or his home town of Zadar, Yugoslavia all the players proudly wore "BYU" shirts -- because they were gifts from Kresho. He must have given away dozens.
He was drafted by the NBA's Boston Celtics, but he returned to Europe and his homeland to continue his efforts to build up the Church there.
He had an incredible wit, a hugely sensitive spirit, and a giant intellect. He was not a big, dumb jock. He was a spiritual giant who has left a huge legacy. It's about time BYU honored him. Saturday night they'll retire his jersey and hang it from the Marriott Center rafters.
Kresho was too good for this world. God has taken him home. Thanks be to God who, through the gift of His Son, has made the reunion with Kresho possible.
UPDATE: Sportswriter Dick Harmon's tribute.