I’m not going to lie, I was worried about Darko Milicic. He was an immature kid plucked from obscurity and became the NBA draft pick between LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony.
He was drafted by the stacked Pistons, who went on to win a title in his rookie year. His coach was Larry Brown. He floundered. He was eventually shuttled to Orlando, then Memphis, New York, Minnesota and Boston. He played 10 years, making millions, but there were always stories. Bad ones.
Not just laziness or chafing with the coaching staff, but drinking, drugs, fights, you name it. Once his playing career ended, Darko was still immature, but now “retired” at 26 with a $50 million fortune. That could be a dangerous combination.
There was professional fishing, a kickboxing stint, and some nationalistic political activism. When I saw a new Darko story pop up today, I was worried all over again.
Much to my surprise, however, it appears that Milicic has finally, thankfully grown up. Milicic is now a farmer, fat, happy and with some important perspective on his failed NBA career.
Milicic was interviewed by Serbian website b92.net where Milicic held court on his entire career. About his Detroit days, he not only admits to getting drunk before practice and getting in fights, but he also, ultimately, puts the blame squarely on his own shoulders. Translated by NBA reddit user Tyrone_Lue:
I'd do a lot of things differently now. It's true that I ended up on a team that was trying to win a ring, which rarely happens to a #2 pick, but in the end, we're all looking for alibis. I could say i didn't get a proper chance. However, that's simply an alibi; it's up to a young player to prove himself, work hard and wait for his chance. My approach was completely different, as a #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.
I had issues with everyone, and that was caused by me playing just for myself. My goal wasn't to silence the critics, it was to silence my ego. Tonight I want to feed my ego, so I'll play a great game against Duncan or Gasol. Tomorrow, we have a totally irrelevant game against a center that's 10 times weaker so I'll put up another great game and become a consistent player because that's what they want from me. But I simply couldn't, I wasn't ready or willing to put in the work...
So yeah, I was the problem. That initial dissatisfaction probably led to me starting to hate and not enjoy playing. There were some situations where I've already scored 20 points, but in my head I'm thinking: "When will this game finally end, come on, let's pack it up and go home." I just had to feed my ego, I couldn't care less what's going to happen the following week. My whole approach since coming to the US was just wrong. I could say I was too young back then, but I chose to go there myself and I obviously wasn't prepared for what the league would require from me.
That won’t be the headline grabber if you see this story elsewhere, because Darko also unleashed a classic line that is a blunt indictment of not only himself, but everyone’s favorite former GM David Khan:
I met with 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 fuck up the team chemistry, do not trade for me. When it's not working it's not working."
The whole piece is fascinating and touches on his stops in Orlando, Memphis, Minnesota, on Nikola Jokic, Boban Marjanovic and living the farm life that is finally allowing him to experience some happiness.
The piece is suffused with a sense that Darko finally “gets it.” But the real kicker is when he talks about his life now.
“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.”
Maybe it’s time to stop worrying about Darko — to stop pitying him, or being mad at him, or even thinking about him, honestly. He’s happy. That’s good enough for me. I hope he stays that way.