By Lauren Merola, Anthony Slater and John Hollinger
The Golden State Warriors returned to the court Wednesday for the first time since beloved assistant coach Dejan Milojević died suddenly from a heart attack suffered at a team dinner in downtown Salt Lake City last week. Before the game, the team honored the man who “embodied the spirit and values” of Golden State, Warriors coach Steve Kerr said Monday.
In lieu of a moment of silence, the Warriors opted for a moment of celebration for Milojević, commonly known throughout the NBA as “Deki.”
“I’d like for all of us to give Deki an ovation that he can hear up in heaven,” Kerr said pregame before allowing the crowd, organizations and Milojević’s family to erupt in a standing ovation for Milojević at Chase Center.
After the team flew back from Salt Lake City a week ago, mourning its “brate” — the Serbian word for “brother” that Kerr said Milojević called people within the organization — basketball trailed even that of an afterthought. So when the Warriors revisited the court Monday for their first practice after Milojević’s death, Kerr said the only way forward is with a mindset forged by Milojević himself.
“You motherf—— need to go win a basketball game,” Kerr said, reciting what he and assistant Ron Adams thought Milojević’s advice to the team would be at such a time. The Warriors’ games against the Utah Jazz on Jan. 17 and Dallas Mavericks on Jan. 19 were postponed and will be rescheduled.
So before the Warriors took the court against the Atlanta Hawks on Wednesday, and try to do just that, they played both the Serbian national anthem and United States national anthem while Milojević’s wife and two kids sat with Zaza Pachulia in Warriors general manager Mike Dunleavy’s seats a few rows behind the team’s bench. Pachulia, a fellow Eastern European, rejoined the Warriors organization in 2019 in a front-office role.
“The world lost a beautiful soul last week,” Kerr said pregame. “Deki was a wonderful friend, a hell of a basketball coach, a great guy and most importantly a beautiful grandson, son, husband and father. … The smile, the joy, the laughter, it was ever present. What he meant to us was a huge part of who we are. He’s a part of our soul.”
Steve Kerr with some powerful words about Dejan Milojević 💛 pic.twitter.com/xTS0aB55do
— Warriors on NBCS (@NBCSWarriors) January 25, 2024
Milojević’s seat on the bench was covered in the “BRATE” shirts Golden State had made, accompanied by a white rose. The Warriors sent the same shirts to teams across the NBA “so all the people who knew him and loved him” would have a shirt to honor Milojević, Kerr said Monday. Dallas Mavericks guard Luka Dončić warmed up in the shirt before the team’s matchup with the Phoenix Suns on Wednesday.
Steph Curry arrived at Chase Center sporting “BRATE” before every Warriors player warmed up in the threads.
Forever with us, Deki. pic.twitter.com/TexNfiUEMc
— Golden State Warriors (@warriors) January 25, 2024
The Warriors will wear a “DM” patch on their uniforms for the remainder of the season and the same logo will also appear on the Chase Center court apron for all remaining home games this season.
Milojević was in his third season as an assistant coach for the Warriors, primarily tasked with working with bigs. While Milojević was the head coach of Mega Basket in Serbia from 2012 to 2020, 11 of his players were drafted and five made the overseas leap: Nikola Jokić, Ivica Zubac, Goga Bitadze, Vlatko Čančar and Timothé Luwawu-Cabarrot.
Hawks guard Bogdan Bogdanović, who Milojević served as an early mentor for, was emotional when announced during starting lineups and then wrapped up by teammates.
“Like everyone else in Serbia, we couldn’t believe the news because that guy was a beast,” Bogdanović said this week. “And always positive … if you complain to him, he was never the guy to complain first, but if you complain to him he would say, ‘Just laugh man, you only live once.’ Just seeing how much impact he had on a lot of players, people around the world, one thing that I will never, never forget, he never chased a career. He was a great player, he never chased his career, he always wanted to live a family lifestyle with his kids in good cities, he never chased money. I feel that’s a great example for everyone to live their life, his saying was he believed that if you don’t like your life, there was no way you can maximize your potential in your job.”
Both Bogdanović’s Hawks and Curry’s Warriors will now try to fulfill Milojević’s supposed wish. They’ll go try and win a basketball game.
(Photo: Noah Graham / NBAE via Getty Images)