An unlikely friendship: LDS scholar Hugh Nibley and BYU basketball star Kresimir Cosic (+video)

Published: Thursday, Jan. 31 2013 5:00 a.m. MST

"He stopped smoking, he stopped drinking," Mincek said. "I don't know how he did it; he must have had physical effects. But he just stopped everything cold once he thought that that was wrong. He was the most complete convert I'd ever seen. He pretty much converted himself."

Cosic's quick lifestyle change made many wonder what had happened, specifically what had happened in his discussions with Nibley.

"We discussed everything — mostly kept along religion, the pre-mortal life, the Resurrection," Cosic said. "I don't think we ever talked about how to do certain things. Actually, I was just asking what's right, what's wrong? And once we settled those things, then everyone has his own way in doing it."

Cosic continued to meet with Nibley and eventually asked if he would baptize him. The baptism took place in November 1971 and was held at the Tabernacle in Salt Lake City. The attendance was just a small group, and Mincek remembered being concerned that Cosic would look silly in the baptismal clothing because, most likely, the pants wouldn't fit. But surprisingly, a long robe had been made available for the tall athlete to wear.

"He looked like Moses with a BYU haircut, it was amazing," she said. "It was the most dignified thing. It was almost as if it had been made for him."

Cosic returned to BYU for his junior and senior years and averaged more than 20 points per game both years. He was named the WAC player of the year and led BYU to a conference championship. Phyllis Nibley remembered cheering on Cosic during many of these games, although her husband, Hugh, never had an interest in attending.

Cosic also played for the Yugoslavian national team in four different Olympic Games, and led his team to the gold at the 1980 Moscow Olympics. Recently, Cosic was also inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame.

The relationship between Nibley and Cosic didn't end once Cosic became a member of the LDS faith. They continued to meet regularly, each thoroughly enjoying the other's company.

"He really loved Kreso (Cosic's nickname)," Mincek said of her father. "It was obvious he cared about Kreso because he allowed him to spend so much time with him. He was a hard man to spend time with. Kreso did it probably more than any of us."

Cosic alluded to the same point as he discussed their relationship in the interview.

"I think we had kind of a unique relationship because he just took all the time I needed to explain about the church," Cosic said. "Anytime I wanted to know something, he would take time. We didn't talk about religion until I felt comfortable with the answers I could get. The time we spent together was the most useful time I ever spent — in the sense of religion."

Later on in life, Cosic was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin's lymphoma. It was after a bone marrow transplant that Cosic's health became frail. Hugh Nibley and his wife flew to Johns Hopkins Hospital once it became apparent that Cosic would not live much longer. Mincek also traveled to say her goodbyes to the lifelong friend.

"My father went up to him and he took Kreso's hand and started talking to him," Mincek said. "He said, 'Kreso, Kreso, remember the time we first met? I remember.'"

Cosic passed away in Baltimore, Mass., in 1995. Hugh Nibley passed away 10 years later on Feb. 24, 2005, in Provo.

Sarah Sanders Petersen is an intern for Deseret News where she writes for Mormon Times and other feature articles. She is a Communications major and editing minor.

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