TORONTO — Nikola Vučević will remember Dejan Milojević for his positivity.
The Chicago Bulls center didn’t meet Milojević in person until he became an assistant coach for the Golden State Warriors in 2021. But Vučević grew up with Milojević as a regular figure in his basketball education, first as a player and then as a coach and mentor to the next generation of Serbian stars.
Milojević died at age 46 after suffering a heart attack during a team dinner Tuesday night in Salt Lake City. The NBA postponed the Warriors’ games Wednesday against the Utah Jazz and Friday against the Dallas Mavericks to give the team proper time to mourn.
For Vučević, Milojević leaves a legacy of playing, coaching and leading with a bright energy that was apparent to those who met him.
“He just has a great energy,” Vučević said Thursday. “I felt like I’d known him for a long time. It’s such a tragic loss for basketball and especially for basketball back home.”
Milojević's playing career stretched from 1994 to 2009, and he was a three-time MVP of the Adriatic Basketball Association, the top league in the former Yugoslavian republics. He represented Serbia and Slovenia internationally, winning a gold medal with Serbia at the 2001 EuroBasket tournament.
Vučević described the respect that Milojević commanded by outplaying his 6-foot-7 height as an undersized big man, muscling out taller players to dominate the Euroleague on the boards.
“He was a huge competitor,” Vučević said. “He just played really hard. He was an undersized four or five and made up for it with his IQ and effort.”
After his retirement as a player, Milojević became a prominent coach in Serbia most known for his mentorship of two-time NBA MVP Nikola Jokić. He took over as coach of Mega Vizura in 2012 and sent 11 players to the NBA draft over the next eight seasons before joining Steve Kerr’s Warriors staff. He also served as an assistant coach for the Serbian national team from 2019-21.
“I know a lot of them are hurting a lot,” Vučević said. “I know it’s not easy. A lot of the younger guys that came up with him, it really touched them deeply.”
Milojević's death cast a shadow over the Bulls’ game Thursday night against the Toronto Raptors, whose head coach, Darko Rajaković, was a longtime friend of Milojević.
Rajaković fought through tears before and after Wednesday’s game against the Heat while describing Milojević's impact on Serbian basketball. He drew up an after-timeout play in the first quarter that he lovingly described as “stolen” from his friend.
“I knew Dejan since I was a teenager,” Rajaković told reporters. “He was a role model as a player, as a man, as a husband, as a coach — somebody that I really admired and have a lot of respect for. This is a really sad day for the whole NBA community.”