Darko Milicic is no longer concerned with NBA basketball, instead content to find competition via fishing and various other activities associated with Serbian gangsters. Nevertheless, Darko remains in the minds of basketball fans simply because he serves as perhaps the most obvious representation of the perils of the draft. In 2003, Milicic was enough of a prospect to earn selection by the Detroit Pistons right after LeBron James and ahead of such luminaries as Carmelo Anthony, Chris Bosh, and Dwyane Wade. Then everything went terribly wrong in such spectacular fashion that his name can now double as a curse on any young player.
It's possible, though, that the Pistons got a sense of the coming disaster even before they officially selected Darko with the second-overall pick. As noted by Jonathan Abrams in a very long profile of current Detroit big man Andre Drummond for Grantland, Darko wanted to make a big statement when greeted by commissioner David Stern at the draft (via Detroit Bad Boys):
"When you get a special talent like this, and it comes at that size, it's almost impossible to pass on that," Dumars, Detroit's president of basketball operations, told reporters upon drafting Milicic. "As special as I think Carmelo Anthony is, I do believe there will be other great 6-8 small forwards who will come around. But when the opportunity comes to get a 7-1 player with that kind of ability, you don't pass it up." Dumars did not. But the red flags came early for Milicic. When he relayed his idea of wearing a suit to the draft and then ripping if off — Superman-style — upon his name being announced, revealing a Pistons jersey, Dumars wisely cautioned against it. It was then that the doubts began to creep into Dumars's head. Milicic would become an NBA wanderer, never reaching his potential. Now, with Anthony, Wade, and Bosh still thriving in the league, Milicic is out of it.
Look, I think we can all agree that ripping off a suit to reveal a Pistons jersey would have been a very stupid way for Milicic to introduce himself to the NBA. Fans, bosses, and teammates like to see that a young player has the humility to know he has a lot of work to do to succeed, and this action definitely wouldn't have exhibited any of those qualities. It would've communicated that he didn't take the gravity of the challenge particularly seriously.
On the other hand, I submit that this would've been the greatest moment in NBA Draft history. Yes, it would have been totally ridiculous. However, what is the draft if not a collection of ridiculous moments in which players let the sheer excitement of becoming millionaires overwhelm their better judgment? Think of the terrible suits, the overexcited hugs with David Stern, etc. If a player were to rip off his suit and reveal that he knew he was being selected by that team all along, wouldn't that be in keeping with the party atmosphere of the event? Wouldn't it really be an expression of maximum joy? Who are we to spoil that fun?
In hindsight, it's easy to knock Darko for proving he wasn't cut out for NBA stardom. But his desire to play superhero on the national stage was more about personal excitement than anything else. There are plenty of reasons he failed — let's not make up more just because it's easy to treat him as a punching bag.
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