Darko Milicic will go down as one of the biggest busts in NBA Draft history. But he has found peace in retirement and is showing life is more than hoops.
By the time the Orlando Magic got Darko Milicic during the 2006 season, many NBA teams were ready to give up on the former second overall pick.
The Detroit Pistons had turned him into a “human victory cigar” and rarely played the talented big man. And when they did, they did not play him in a way that took advantage of his shooting and passing. Darko Milicic at his best probably resembled more Nikola Jokic today than the bigs that roamed the NBA in the early 2000s. He was perhaps a bit before his time.
Then again, he might never have had the drive to make it in the NBA with the best players in the world. That is not what he was after. But at least one NBA team believed he could be.
When the Magic traded Kelvin Cato to the Pistons to acquire Milicic, they were the first team to give him a second chance.
Believe it or not, Milicic delivered for the Magic. At least compared to the rest of his career.
He was never going to live up to his draft classmates in Carmelo Anthony, LeBron James and Dwyane Wade. Milicic was the odd man out in that group. He would never even come close to his cohorts — even with his time in Orlando.
As James ascended to the best player in the league — and probably a top five player of all time — and Anthony to a perennial All-Star, it cast a big shadow on Milicic. He just was never up to those standards.
And, surprisingly, four years after he walked away from the Boston Celtics(somewhat literally), Milicic is at peace with his NBA legacy. And, probably more surprisingly to NBA fans, he does not care.
Milicic returned home to Serbia after his basketball career ended and took up farming after a very brief career as a professional kickboxer. He has a farm in Serbia where he has an orchard and grows fruit. He has settled into a nice life, away from all the vices and distractions of his life.
Sam Borden of ESPN.com tracked him down to find out what he is up to for an E:60 story this weekend. And found a Milicic who has put the vices of his youth behind him and recognizes his place in NBA history.
He found a man who finally found his passion in life, and it is not the passion everyone thought he should have:
Supposed to — that was Old Darko’s existence, wasn’t it? He was tall, so he played basketball. He was good, so he went to Hemofarm. He got noticed, so he went to America. He needed an idol, so he made one up. He followed the trail wherever it led. There was no hazy image of grandeur in his mind’s eye, no sweet moment of make-believe lolling about in his brain. He was dreaming with the lights on.
Now that basketball is over, though, it is different. Now, he does fantasize about a passion. Now, he does have a picture of something that makes him smile.
Borden reports Milicic nearly quit basketball and left the NBA on several occasions during his career, including in Orlando. He kept at it, trying to salvage his career and because the money was good. Milicic made more than $50 million in his career, including taking a three-year, $21-million deal with the Memphis Grizzlies.
That came after perhaps the two most successful years Milicic had in basketball. With the Magic.
Milicic averaged 7.9 points and 5.1 rebounds per game in the 2006 and 2007 seasons with the Magic. He was a solid player and even paired well with Dwight Howard.
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18h – Orlando Magic: Arron Afflalo can be a reliable leader21h – The Los Angeles Lakers are heading in the right direction1 d – Los Angeles Lakers: Magic Johnson has high expectations for Jordan Clarkson1 d – Darko Milicic at peace with ‘bust’ of NBA career1 d – Orlando Magic due for unpredictable 2018 season
In a recent interview with a Serbian news site, Milicic seemed to suggest he wished he would have gotten a chance to stick it out with that Orlando roster and play with a young Dwight Howardmore. He was surprised after that season that the offers did not come to keep him in the league.
The time in Orlando may not have been all roses though.
Milicic gained something of a reputation as a partier. Indeed, Milicic indulged a bit too much even during his days in Detroit. It was tough for any team to invest in him. And he had a bit of a temper too. That showed through in his time in Memphis and elsewhere.
At the end of the day, Milicic was likely not ready for the NBA (something he admits now) and needed to find what made him truly happy. His time with the Pistons where he did not play only made those frustrations and immaturity worse.
It appears in retirement from basketball, he has found his happiness and passion. Farming is a simpler life and he dives into it with the passion everyone seems to expect from the top NBA players.