“You know, I once wrote a story about Frederic Weis,” I say, bringing up another basketball catastrophe from Europe — this one French instead of Serbian — who was drafted by the New York Knicks in 1999 but never played a game for them. Darko’s face perks up. He remembers Weis. “What was he like?” “He was sad and depressed,” I say. “He had a lot of other issues going on, too, with his wife and his son, but he still seemed pretty angry about how everything turned out and he was angry at life, and I guess it was under-the-surface angry, but angry.” I’m babbling. “Actually, Weis tried to kill himself once,” I blurt out. Darko doesn’t flinch. “Really?” “Yeah.”
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We ride in silence for a minute. There aren’t many stoplights here and the road is a little bumpy and the radio is on, with Serbian music playing low. It seems as if maybe I jabbered the conversation into submission. But then, abruptly, Darko says, “That’s weird, you know, about Weis, because I kind of feel like Old Darko died. Like, when I think about myself, or myself when I was playing, I feel like I’m sort of thinking about someone who is dead.”
The worst was in Memphis. Darko’s wife, Zorana, who was living with him then, calls that his “crisis period.” The team was losing. Darko was infuriated. And the walls in that apartment looked like cottage cheese, a mess of bubbly bumps and curds. The sequence was familiar: He would come in, hammer on the walls and go to sleep. In most cities, he came to know the local contractors who could run over, throw some putty up and do a quick cover-up job with whatever paint they had handy. “You know you have exactly white, and then the other white, and then gray?” Darko says of his patchy walls. “That was my house.”
But Rivers liked Darko, liked having him in practice. So he welcomed Darko into his office and listened as Darko told him he had come to say goodbye. “In the center position, if something goes bad for the team, you have [Jason] Collins, you have [Fab] Melo,” Darko said. “So I’m packed and going home.” Darko recalls Rivers being stunned. “Darko, what are you talking about? Where are you going? You are going to play tonight.” Darko was unbowed. “Doc, that’s it. I’m not playing tonight, I’m not playing ever again. “Thank you guys for trying. It didn’t go well. I’m out.”
Darko’s passion is real. When an unexpected snowfall damaged about 10 acres of apples this spring, he went out with the workers to try to salvage the crop. And last year, when he walked through the orchard during the first picking season, he experienced a sensation that, he says, was foreign to him: pride. “I was just really happy,” he says. “You know, we were picking our apples. Ours.”
“My approach was completely different, as a No. 2 pick coming from Europe. I thought I was sent by God. So I got into fights, got drunk before practices, spiting everyone, while in the end I was spiting myself.” Milicic, drafted ahead of Carmelo Anthony, Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade, averaged 1.6 points and 1.2 rebounds in 96 games with the Pistons. He went on to play seven more seasons in the NBA, with stops in Orlando, Memphis, New York, Minnesota and Minnesota.
Darko’s here again. He conducted an interview with Serbian news website B92.net, portions of which were translated by the fine folks at r/NBA, and he sounded like a man more comfortable in his skin. Milicic discussed each of his NBA stops with the sort of honesty you’d expect from the 7-foot Serbian. “I’d do a lot of things differently now. It’s true I ended up on a team trying to win a ring, which rarely happens to a No. 2 pick, but in the end we’re all looking for excuses. I could say I didn’t get a proper chance, but that’s simply an excuse; it’s up to a young player to prove himself, work hard and wait for his chance. My approach was completely different. As a No. 2 pick coming from Europe, I thought I was sent by God, so I got into fights, got drunk before practices, spiting everyone, but I was spiting myself.
How is Darko doing now? Inquiring minds would sure like to know. “I’ve gained 90 pounds since I stopped playing,” he said. “I’m at 350 right now. I’m working at my farm and enjoying that kind of production. I take walks through my fields and watch the process, which makes me really happy. I’m still pretty inexperienced at this, so I like to learn, seek guidance, go to seminars. I’ve created my own peace of mind, and I’m enjoying it. There are always problems like in any other field of work, but I’d rather do this than build skyscrapers in the city, because I’d end up shooting myself. I think this is the most positive story of them all – food production and food in general is the future in every sense.”
“I met with [then-Wolves GM] David Kahn and told him: ‘Don’t trade for me for the love of God. I don’t want to play in the NBA anymore. I’ll ruin your team. I’ll f*** up the team chemistry. Do not trade for me. When it’s not working it’s not working.’ He told me to join them for two weeks, and if I’m not feeling it I’m free to leave. My first year there actually went great. “My experience in the NBA was a catastrophe, because I’m a born winner. I don’t like losing, even in card games.
Darko Milicic: “It’s just simple, my career was how it was and I don’t miss that. I went to the NBA as a kid, barely 18, didn’t have the attitude I should have had.”
Darko Milicic: “I thought as a kid that talent was God-given, but it’s not. God gives you talent and you should use that talent with the real meaning of that word. I was stubborn. Maybe being young had something to do with it. There was option then of going to the NBA or staying in Serbia because Hemofarm knew that if I went to NBA they would get more money than they would get if I went to some European club. Here you had poverty and money was there.”
Darko Milicic: “Their system is cruel and I don’t like it. If a young player doesn’t succeed, they don’t look after him. That sucks. You have players who are first or second in the draft that get a chance to play. I didnt get the chance. LBJ is a killer now, but he did get a chance in his first year, he could shoot from the stands if he wanted. I barely got the chance. I had that situation in Orlando where if I shoot from perimeter, my coach Hill would yell, “Pass to Howard.” In Detroit nothing went right. Larry Brown always told me to go near the basket. They offered me a $40 million, four-year contract in Orlando, and then their manager blows it off, out of nowehere. My manager told me he would deal with it. I said OK, but just not Memphis. Anywhere but there. And, of course, I went to Memphis. Then I got injured, didn’t play much.
Darko Milicic: “I wanted to go back to Europe but then the Minnesota offer came. I tried to talk them out of of signing me, I said I won’t practice, I will make trouble in the locker room but they were persistent. They told me give it two weeks, if it doesn’t work you can go. I accepted, it was nice and I played but we didn’t win. Rambis was fired and after Adelman came I realized it’s not gonna work. Pekovic started playing well, and I thought, “Never mind, I’ll come off the bench.” But it just didn’t work. And then I just quit.
Darko Milicic: “I can’t play with American players. They only talked about who dunked on whom, who crossed over whom. I was weird to them because I didn’t think that way.”
Darko Milicic: “It’s all funny to me. I finally get a chance to play and (Mutombo) starts taunting me and daring me to fight. Why would I need that? I didn’t understand half of what he said. I mean, he’s been there 20 years and still doesn’t know the language well enough. Nobody in particular annoyed me, but Kobe Bryant is the dirtiest player with the things he does on the court… But without a doubt he is a beast. He was amazing.”
“I don’t miss basketball. I live very well, thank God. I have my interests, interests in agriculture,” says Darko Milicic in an exclusive interview for Blic.
Former NBA center Darko Milicic, a 7-foot Serb who spent 10 years with various teams after being the second overall pick in the 2003 draft behind LeBron James, has lost his first kickboxing fight. The 29-year-old Milicic sustained a bloody cut on his left leg in the first round of an exhibition match Thursday night against Serbian fighter Radovan Radojcic. The World Kickboxing Association bout had to be stopped in the second round on doctor’s orders. “The next time, it will be better,” Milicic said. “I’m invincible.”
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February 24, 2018 | 10:01 pm EST Update
Jon Krawczynski: Jimmy Butler still has a 2nd opinion to get before any decisions are made on surgery and treatment. Will head out tomorrow morning to do that.