The NBA career of Darko Milicic qualifies as one of the weirdest in recent memory. After being picked second in the 2003 draft — ahead of such likely Hall of Famers as Carmelo Anthony (No. 3), Chris Bosh (No. 4), and Dwyane Wade (No. 5) — Darko won an NBA title as a rookie with the Detroit Pistons, broke his hand in the final game of the series and was not subbed out by Larry Brown despite requests, was called a "Serbian gangster" by Rasheed Wallace, showed some promise after a trade to the Orlando Magic, got several more lucrative contracts for unclear reasons, was called "manna from heaven" by deposed Minnesota Timberwolves David Kahn, and started the 2012-13 season with the Boston Celtics by claiming he was willing to kill someone on the court if necessary. It's been a full career, to say the least, apart from the fact that Darko never turned into anything close to the outside-shooting, shot-blocking dynamo that some pre-draft projections claimed he would be.
Darko didn't do much with the Celtics — in fact, he played just fewer than five minutes with the team before leaving for his home country of Serbia in November to be with his sick mother. As our Kelly Dwyer noted at the time, this moment likely represented Darko saying goodbye to his NBA career, albeit for understandable purposes. Now Darko has essentially confirmed that he will not seek another NBA contract. From an interview with mvp.rs (rough translation via EOB):
"No more chances. This is a done deal. Bygone. Hence I wear a lot of bad experiences. Guilt is mutual, it was bad moves with their with my hand. However, is not worth more to talk about. They think they should to play a supporting role and wait for his chance. understand why they have such an attitude. My NBA career speaks to me for such a player, and I know I'm not. "
The struggles of translation make it unclear exactly what Darko means by this statement, but my interpretation is that he never feels as if he was giving an honest shot to succeed in the league. That's certainly true of his time in Detroit. While most players would consider themselves lucky to win a title immediately, Darko was marginalized by the notoriously rookie-averse Brown almost pathologically, to the point where his career may have been affected long-term. On the other hand, Milicic played for several more teams and earned enough money that he can only play the victim card so many times. No matter the troubles of his three seasons with the Pistons, Darko will go down as a huge disappointment.
In a way, this news marks the end of an era. For 10 years, Darko has been the subject of jokes, bad memories, and harsh real-time reactions to his inadequate play. While he never turned into a particularly useful player, he has always been a memorable character in the NBA world.
Darko hasn't made much impact on the league in the ways we typically discuss important players, but it's also hard to imagine the last decade of basketball without his presence. If the league is a world unto itself, and not just a platform for legacies and stats, then it is now without someone we all know quite well. The loss of Darko isn't particularly sad, but it does create a noticeable gap.
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- Darko Milicic
- Detroit Pistons