I’ve been an NBA fan for as long as I can remember.
The first game I ever remember watching was between the Bulls and Celtics during the 1986 NBA Playoffs. I was watching with my dad and I was hypnotized by everything going on. I was four years old and just blankly stared at the television screen. There was a guy who kept doing everything for the red team. When it was explained to me that the object of the game was to put the ball into the circle with the net, it was pretty obvious that the one guy in red was the only person capable of doing that.
From that moment, any time I could get my hands on a basketball or watch a basketball game, my eyes would focus in. My pupils would dilate, absorbing as much of the imagery as my spongey brain could soak up. From that moment on, iconic NBA moments made up my childhood memories. Sure, there were road trips with my family, holiday excursions to Atlanta, that one year I lived in West Point, Mississippi and thousands of other moments that still sit in the back of my memory.
But nothing resonated with me as much as Michael Jordan finally getting past the Pistons, Chuck Person and Larry Bird screaming at each other as they exchanged jumpers like angry motorists exchange insurance information after a crash, John Paxson’s jumper thrusting itself into the chest of the Phoenix Suns, John Starks shooting his team away from a title, being furious the NBA Finals were a picture-in-picture because of OJ Simpson being chauffeured away from the authorities, Nick Anderson missing free throws and Rudy Tomjanovich urging us to never underestimate the heart of a champion.
Those were the moments I took with me from my childhood.
As I got older and began to understand the game and the business of it all a lot better, my fandom seemed to evolve/devolve/change. The losses of the Timberwolves stung a lot less and things were easier to take in stride. I had bills, rent, credit card statements, student loans, and gas money to figure out. I had dates to go on, crazy relationships to find ways out of, and rejection to deal with more than being furious about Tracy McGrady and Pat Garrity beating out the Wolves on a random TNT broadcast in March.
As I started my writing career, fumbled my way through figuring out what was an actual step forward and what was me just not understanding the depth of the business, I grew more and more frustrated with the way things were happening with the Wolves than the results of the actual games. I didn’t like the fact that Kevin Garnett was going to be traded because management couldn’t figure out how to put an actual team around him, even with his ginormous salary. I tried to understand how things happened and why things happened.
But through whatever growth or regression I’ve dealt with in terms of my own NBA fandom, I always enjoyed watching basketball. Hearing the leather of the ball smack against the hardwood and parquet floors projected into my television gave me goosebumps. Hearing the squeaking of rubber soles halting momentum of a finely tuned human specimen so they could defeat a peer of theirs on the next movement leading up to the turning point of each basketball play was music to my ears.
It didn’t matter what game was on TV or what game I found on NBA League Pass, I was locked in and ready to put on my amateur analyst hat. I was giddy to see guys boxing out, closing out, and punishing execution errors on the basketball court.
There has only been one time in which I haven’t truly enjoyed watching basketball on any level.
That’s when I watched Darko Milicic troll the lane for the Timberwolves for the 2,772 minutes he wore a Minnesota uniform on a basketball court with the ball in play.
He sucked the joy from the event I love watching the most in the world. Sure, you’ll want to talk yourself into him just being a minimum veteran kind of guy and that it could be worse for having a backup center on your roster. Let me assure you that you’re wrong. I know you’ve just thought of a horrible center. I probably can guess that Ryan Hollins or Andray Blatche or Johan Petro or Earl Boykins have come to mind.
Trust me; he’s so much worse than those three and a half men.
The problem is not only does he not know how to string together even semi-competent plays on an NBA court, but he also doesn’t care whether or not he gets it done. He’s going to cash the paycheck, stuff the money under his mattress (no seriously, he doesn’t trust banks), and have the same blank stare of a lobotomized person watching sink fixtures rust over.
He’ll probably get injured in hilarious fashion, like when he hurt himself twice on jump balls two years ago or when he hurt himself during his conditioning test late last season. There will be moments his teammates will laugh about him right in front of him, like when he nearly tipped a desperation lob attempt by the Sixers with one-tenth of a second left into the basket and his teammates responded in the locker room by joking it would have been “the most Darko thing ever” for them to lose like that.
He’s accepted his fate. He’s a tall guy that gets to cash enormous checks for being tall. It comes with zero stipulations other than “remain tall and you get to be paid seven figures.” He’s fine with this.
I know the Boston Celtics have a mystique about them. More history has passed through the various Boston locker rooms and player tunnels than any other team in NBA folklore. Guys can change their careers just by wearing that uniform. It won’t matter to Darko. You’re much better off letting Fab Melo burn himself in the fires of trial-and-error than letting anybody pretend Darko belongs on the court.
Yes, he’ll be with Kevin Garnett this time but he’s been with Rasheed Wallace and Ben Wallace before. He’s played under Rick Adelman, Lionel Hollins, Larry Brown, Flip Saunders, and Mike D’Antoni. It’s not like Doc Rivers will be the first good coach to ever throw him into a scheme. There is no realization for him.
I wish you the best in these dark(o) times. He won’t be fun, even in the minuscule moments he’s on the court. He’ll crush your soul in ways losing a Game 7 to the Lakers in the NBA Finals can’t even compare to. He’s a numbing agent that Novocain will never be able to compete with. He is a pebble in your shoe that will never shake out. He is a sliver under your fingernail, that can’t be tweezed out.
He is Darko Milicic. The only thing that has ever ruined an NBA game for me.
Have fun with that, Boston. I feel for you.