“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.”
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.”
But although things could change, Jonah Bolden is scheduled to play with KK Crvena zvezda in Belgrade, Serbia, this coming season. The 21-year-old Australian signed a two-year contract with the professional team on June 10. If need be, Bolden won’t have a problem getting out of his contract. His buyout is for $675,000. As good as he is, the Sixers really don’t have a spot for him night now. That’s one of the reasons he’s scheduled to play in Belgrade.
The two-time FIBA Basketball World Cup winner has called on players worldwide to support FIBA’s new competition calendar, describing it as ‘win-win for players, fans, national federations, leagues and clubs.’ “Representing your country is the ultimate honor and I know that many of you feel the same way. The new calendar means that, for the first time, they (players) will have one free summer in every four-year cycle, reducing the pressure and providing the time needed to rest and recover from an already arduous schedule. It is really important that the new global calendar will also create opportunities and help develop new talent by enabling younger players from more countries to play international basketball.”