Every morning, we compile the links of the day and dump them here… highlighting the big story line. Because there’s nothing quite as satisfying as a good morning dump.
On Nov. 17, 2012, the Celtics had a game against the Toronto Raptors. That day, as the players were filtering into the locker room, Darko knocked on Doc Rivers’ office door.
Like most of Darko’s coaches before him, Rivers did not see Darko playing a significant role on his team. To that point, through nine games, Darko had played a total of five minutes.
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.”
When Darko went into the locker room to tell his teammates, several didn’t seem to understand. He was leaving? Like, for good? For good, he told them. It was over.
Publicly, the Celtics said Darko had asked for his release so he could return home to be with his mother, who was sick. In truth, Darko’s mother had a minor illness — and recovered just fine — and Darko had been planning his exit for a while.
He first thought about leaving in Orlando, if he’s being honest, when they didn’t sign him to a contract extension. But Memphis gave him a $21 million contract because the Grizzlies thought they could fix him. Then, when that didn’t work out, he nearly left again, but the Timberwolves — even after he advised Minnesota not to trade for him — dealt for him anyway and offered a $20 million contract, convinced that they, in fact, were the ones who could bring out the talent everyone was so sure Darko possessed. (They weren’t.)
Finally Boston took its shot, stepping forward like the last in a line of children taking swings at an empty pinata.
“Everybody was trying to find a way to keep me,” Darko says. Leaving, then, even in the way he did, was the moment when he took back control.
During what is an invariably slow month on the NBA calendar, I urge you to read ESPN’s long-form piece on Darko (perfect for your commute to or from work on the Red Line when the air conditioning inexplicably turns off, your train gets stuck between South Station and Broadway and the eight people surrounding you don’t think to take their backpacks off. I’m not bitter about MBTA’s Train Line to Hell, or anything).
Lots of eye-opening stuff, with the above excerpt about Darko’s last day with the Celtics chief among it. In addition to punching a horse, punching walls and exporting apples to African countries (yes, all in the story), the biggest takeaway from the story is that Milicic, the number two overall pick in the loaded ’03 draft, never really loved to play basketball. Once you get to the NBA, that lack of passion shows, and it buried Darko from the beginning.
Tough to lose one of your big men to retirement just hours before an early-season game, but good thing Doc had a loaded front court in 2012, right?!?
On page 2, Jaylen Brown enjoying his trip across the globe
Looks like a pretty transformative experience in Africa for Jaylen Brown, who will play in the NBA Africa game on Saturday. It’s been a fun summer of travel, competitive basketball and drive-by-dunking for Jaylen. It’s not hard to see this experience plus the strong summer league stint leading to a promising sophomore campaign in the NBA.