“I’m not doing this.”

I’m starting to feel bad for Darko Milicic. Well, as bad as you can feel for someone pulling down $5 million a year, at least. But here’s the thing: he’s making that money doing a job he apparently hates. It’s all over his body language, especially when you see him in person. When he’s taken out of the game, usually close to the end of the first quarter, he seems palpably relieved. He looks like maybe he hopes he never has to check back in. He just looks much happier not playing basketball. Look at the body language of Kevin Love or Ricky Rubio after they get called for a foul or blow a play; they look frustrated or angry, but Darko just looks like Eeyore. Even Nikola Pekovic, Darko’s Serbian brother-in-arms, the guy who can’t seem to stay on the court without flattening opposing players, engages the referees after foul calls, presumably saying things like, “I punch. Is good, yes?”

It even comes out in Darko’s facial hair, which is about as aimless as facial hair can be. He doesn’t grow a goatee; it’s more like he lets it happen and then when he notices it, he shaves it, then forgets about his face again. I say all this out of a genuine sense of concern for the man. You don’t tend to worry about whether 6’2″ point guards got railroaded into a career they didn’t want when it comes to basketball, but you only need to look at Shawn Bradley to know that basketball wasn’t so much his life’s passion as what was thrust upon someone over seven feet tall.

While not quite Bradley’s size, Darko is definitively a large human being. It can be easy to forget as you watch him shrink and disappear on the court, putting up soft as butter layups that get swatted away when he could be dunking, or playing volleyball with rebounds instead of simply grabbing them down. But up close, it’s obvious his arms are roughly the size of an average guy’s legs.

So what other options were there for a such a gentle giant? Combing the web for insight into his personal life, I learned that he’s married and has a son. We know he raffled off the championship ring he won with the Pistons to benefit the charity he started with (presumably) his wife, the Zorana and Darko Milicic Fund for Children with Life Threatening Diseases. That charity does good work helping children in his native Serbia. He may have once said that the Pistons wasted their pick on him. It seems sad, really, that a man who may once have harbored dreams about becoming a surgeon or an architect or whatever has ended up a basketball player. There’s little incentive for him to walk away from a career that pays him so well, even if it seems to make him miserable.

There was an in-arena video the Timberwolves played in the lone game they had leading up to Christmas this year, featuring Darko magically special effected into a cartoon rocking chair. It was supposed to be a video of Milicic reading “The Night Before Christmas,” and the punchline was that just as the camera settled on him, he stood up and said, “I’m not doing this.” The arena laughed, and it was funny, playing as it did on his less-than-perfect grasp of the English language. But as the season has gone on, I’ve thought back often to that clip as Milicic has moped sullenly from the floor to the bench and wondered how much he wishes he weren’t doing any of this.

Steve McPherson


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