SAN FRANCISCO – Tears have dried among the ranks of the warriors, but the images are indelible and remain painful. Death is rarely welcome, but it's chilling to see it suddenly snatch away an energetic and popular young man.
The organization spent last Tuesday night praying and pleading in vain for a miracle that could save Dejan Milojevic.
The dear assistant coach died of cardiac arrest on Wednesday at the University of Utah Hospital in Salt Lake City. “Dickie,” as everyone called him, was 46 years old.
Five days passed without activity for the warriors. Realizing the shock to the team, the NBA postponed Golden State's next two games. There was no practice, no desire.
It wasn't until Monday morning that coach Steve Kerr tried to restore a sense of normalcy, and even then, there was Dickey. Before taking the court, the team watched a video of thousands of fans who gathered to celebrate his life before a basketball game in Serbia, his home country, where he was a star player.
“We've gotten a better understanding of what Dickey means to his fellow citizens,” Kerr said. “And of course, how much he meant to us and (wife and children) Natasha, Massa and Nicola. It was just a devastating week.”
The Warriors took an hour after the video to “process the emotions we saw,” per Kerr. Only then, did she feel it was somewhat appropriate to begin training.
Six days after seeing Milojevic lose consciousness and five days after his death was announced, they remained in deep mourning. How could they not be?
“It's an absolutely terrible thing to witness,” Kerr said.
Just 12 hours ago, many of the team were enjoying dinner when suddenly, Dicky was in distress. There was no defibrillator in the restaurant, nor at the business next door. Life-saving measures were unable to bring him back.
“Everyone on our team and everyone in our organization is traumatized,” Kerr said. “Part of life is to face loss. Everyone will experience loss at some point in their life. But it doesn't often happen in front of you. It doesn't often happen to someone with children. And it doesn't happen often when it's someone who is so loved around the world.” .
“So, everything that's happened over the past five days has been just jarring. Just incredibly emotional and powerful, and more than anything, heartbreaking.
Milojevic was hired to coach Golden State's big men, so no one on the roster has spent more time with him than Kevon Looney. Since Dickey's hiring in the summer of 2021 until last week, the two have been off from individual training. They can be seen before games sitting next to each other on the bench and studying the video.
Although Lonnie was not present at the dinner to see his coach lose his life, the past six days had been particularly difficult.
“The first couple days it was more of a shock than anything else,” Looney said. “You hear there's an emergency, and you don't know what's going on. Then (Dickie's death) was an even bigger shock. And then you come through a lot of pain.”
“The last couple of days have been a little weird. Just remember, and try to surround yourself with love and family. That's what I've been trying to do.”
Loon and Deki are usually the first warriors seen when the doors to the Chase Center's training hall open. They were always – always – practicing the hoop a few feet inside the doorway. But on Monday, without Dickey, there was no color.
He chose a hoop at the other end of the floor for his post-training session. Grief sent him elsewhere.
“It's weird not having him here,” Looney said. “But it's also good to have comrades to go to war with every day who support you. We're always together. It's not like we're alone. That makes it a little easier.”
“It's something we have to continue to deal with, and it's something that's still new. But when we stick together, we'll be able to heal.”
Healing will take time, and the Warriors know that. The organization made counseling available to its employees, most of whom had at least a passing relationship with Dickey. To the players, he was like a favorite, funny and outspoken uncle. To the coaches, he was like a funny, smart brother.
Or as Dickie says, naughty. Which translates to “brother” in his mother tongue.
On Monday, players and coaches wore black jerseys with the word BRATE printed across the chest. Just above left, there was a heart drawn around Milojevic's initials: “DM.” On the back was his nickname.
“Some guys had the idea for a T-shirt,” Kerr said. “Brattie is what everyone called him. Brother. He called all his fellow coaches Bratty. And we wanted the heart because he was so full of love and joy for all of us. And vice versa. Then he nicknamed him on the back.”
“We're sending these jerseys around the league, so all the people who knew and loved him will get these jerseys too.”
There will come a time when all the things that seemed like a week ago will matter a lot to the Warriors and their fans will feel important. The ridiculous turnovers, shoddy defense, bizarre rotations, and permanent lineups will once again irritate the team and activate the most edgy keyboard gangsters within the fanbase.
Wednesday night, when they take the floor in the Chase against the Atlanta Hawks, we'll get our first glimpse of the post-Dickie Warriors. We will get an idea about their general mental state.
What is clear is that Dickey is still with this team. His spirit, his humor, and his presence are within them. The effects of grief are real, but they know what he wants.
Said Kerr: “I can literally picture Dickey smiling and laughing and saying you need to win the basketball game.”
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