How the Golden State Warriors, Stephen Curry are honoring late assistant coach Dejan Milojević — Andscape
SAN FRANCISCO – “The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? the Lord is the strength of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?” – Psalm 27-1.
When seeking guidance to cope with the death of Golden State Warriors assistant coach Dejan Milojević, Stephen Curry asked for advice from three friends who coincidentally chose the same Bible verse for him to lean on.
“I got sent that from three different people who don’t know each other,” Curry told Andscape. “It’s about being patient and waiting on the Lord through all trials and tribulations. I’ve been kind of marinating on that one.”
Milojević suffered a heart attack during a Warriors team dinner in Salt Lake City on Jan. 16 and died the next morning. Milojevic, 46, was in his third season as a Golden State assistant coach and was a part of their 2022 NBA championship staff. Nicknamed the “Serbian Charles Barkley,” which Milojević said was because they were similar in height and played the same position, worked most closely with Warriors big men Dario Šarić, Kevon Looney, Draymond Green and rookie Trayce Jackson-Davis.
Milojević was also a mentor to several European NBA players, including two-time NBA MVP Nikola Jokic, a Serbian star for the Denver Nuggets. Dallas Mavericks star Luka Dončić, who is from Slovenia, sent condolences on social media.
While Curry didn’t work with Milojević daily, he said, he did have numerous conversations with him about offensive concepts and schemes.
“He was very direct, but it was with a lighthearted and passionate point of view. But it’s fun. He understands that this is basketball. That is what he loves, basketball. That’s who he was,” Curry said to media after Tuesday’s practice.
Warriors coach Steve Kerr was among those who attended the dinner for Milojević at a restaurant that the franchise bought out for privacy. Kerr estimated that about four to five players also attended. Curry first heard the news of Milojević’s death in a phone call from Warriors security guard Yusef Wright.
Milojević’s wife, Natasa, his son, Nikola, who plays basketball at Hawaiʻi Pacific University, and daughter, Masa, were all in Salt Lake City to say goodbye before he died. A Warriors source said one of the main motivations for Milojević to coach in the NBA was for his children to realize their dream of attending college in the United States.
“It’s a huge loss and there is a void that is going to be left for a long time,” Curry said.
A moved Curry said Masa Milojević mustered the strength to speak to the Warriors at the team hotel on Jan. 17 about what the franchise meant to her father. The Warriors departed Salt Lake City for home on Jan. 18.
“She talked to us about how much he loved this organization,” Curry told Andscape. “How much he really enjoyed it. His dream was to coach in the NBA. His son was a huge Warriors fan growing up who loved watching me play. Every time she talked to her father he would say he was having so much fun with our franchise, the coaching staff and our team.
“As he passed, he was doing what he loved. As hard as it was for her to say that, it brought her comfort that he was doing what he loved when he passed.”
Curry and his wife Ayesha, have two daughters and a son. The two-time MVP said he couldn’t help but think of his family after seeing Milojević’s wife and children in Utah. Curry also sent a text to some close friends telling them they needed to do a better job of making time for one another, because time is precious, a source said.
Curry said the “hardest part” of Milojević’s death is the pain that his family is suffering.
“The loss is significant. Devastating. But it really hit home when we saw his family …,” Curry told Andscape. “Life gives you cruel reminders of the blessings in your life and the ability to be able to enjoy the time with your family. Every single day, you can’t take it for granted. You see what they’re going through. It’s supertough.
“I try to bring the right spirit every time I come home and get to hang out with my kids. I think it’s been even greater over these last couple of days.”
Curry and the Warriors watched the tribute online for Milojević in Serbia on Monday in a game between his two former clubs, KK Budućnost and KK Mega Basket. Curry imagined what it would have been like to be in the arena.
After practice Tuesday, the Warriors star said the hope was that the franchise would return to action with the “right mindset mentally to get yourself ready physically and mentally.”
Inspired by the tribute in Serbia, the Warriors wanted to give a goodbye to Milojević in their first game since his death. Warriors president and chief operating officer Brandon Schneider credited senior vice president of brand marketing Amanda Chin for organizing the Warriors’ pregame tribute for Milojević.
“This week was unimaginable for the organization and devastated the Milojević family,” Chin told Andscape. “I wanted them to feel like they were wrapped in love and for the players to have the opportunity to honor their Brate.”
Chin and Warriors vice president of team operations Eric Housen collaborated on designing the T-shirts, jerseys, court decal and pins honoring Milojević. Chin and her team worked on the video tribute that include highlights and quotes from the Warriors and social media posts. Chin and her team also came up with the idea to play the Serbian national anthem during pregame to honor him as well.
The Warriors donned a “DM” patch inside a heart on their uniforms that they will wear for the rest of the season. The NBA nixed the Warriors hopes of having “MILOJEVIC” on the back of all their jerseys Wednesday night, a source said. Instead, the Warriors players wore it during the pregame tribute and placed each jersey on the late coach’s second row bench seat. Chin said those jerseys will be given to Milojević’s children.
A “DM” logo in a heart will be on the floor at Chase Center during the remainder of home games this season. Every Warriors and Atlanta Hawks player and coach and most Warriors and Chase Center employees wore black T-shirts honoring Milojević that said, “BRATE,” on the front and a heart with the initials “DM” inside and his nickname “Deki” on the back. “Brate” means brother in Serbian, which was a word commonly used by Milojević. Warriors team DJ D-Sharp usually plays hip-hop during pregame workouts but wasn’t allowed to play music until game time. Instead, the Warriors used a playlist of smooth R&B jams such as Marvin Gaye’s “After the Dance” and an instrumental version of George Benson’s “Give Me The Night.”
Curry shot pregame as usual with Warriors assistant coach Bruce Fraser around 6 p.m. Also shooting at the same time of Curry was Šarić, who always had Milojević take him through his pregame workout. Šarić, who is Croatian, declined media interviews the previous two days. Now passing the ball to Šarić in pregame was Warriors assistant coach Chris DeMarco, who was very close to Milojević.
While Curry was shooting in pregame, his agent Jeff Austin and vice president of relations and business development at SC30 Kris Stone watched from courtside. Bay Area native Stone lives locally, Austin flew in from Los Angeles to support Curry. Austin said he spoke to Curry once over the phone after Milojević’s death to check on him and he also spoke to him after his pregame shooting ritual.
“It was a pretty big, tragic event,” Austin told Andscape. “We all need support. Everyone needs support at an important time like this. I’m not just showing up to watch a game. This is a big game for the team.”
Curry stood next to Kerr as a video tribute played in Milojević’s honor. Kerr also spoke on behalf of the Warriors and the crowd enthusiastically obliged him when he asked for a moment of tribute. The Serbian national anthem was played before “The Star-Spangled Banner.”
Green, guard Klay Thompson and Hawks guard Bogdan Bogdanović were all very emotional just before the game started. Bogdanović, who is Serbian, had planned to go to dinner with Milojević on Tuesday night in San Francisco. Milojević also was an assistant coach on the Serbian national team under Hawks assistant coach Igor Kokoskov.
“It was very emotional,” Kerr said. “A lot of guys were in tears as the ball was being tipped. I talked to Igor before the game. Him and Deki were really close. Bogdanovic came over and said hello. There is such a strong Serbian connection in this league, and really the whole region. Croatia, Slovenia, Montenegro, the whole region is such a basketball hotbed. There are so many guys from that region. Deki knew them all.”
Once the game began, Curry settled everyone’s nerves at the Chase Center by making the first basket on a 3-pointer 21 seconds into the game. The Warriors went on to win 134-112, their first game since Jan. 15. After the game, injured Warriors guard Chris Paul wore a jersey with “MILOJEVIC” on the back in the locker room while talking to reporters about his recent hand surgery.
The Warriors have struggled to a 19-22 record despite playoff and title aspirations. They lost Green to a lengthy suspension, have lost Paul and Gary Payton II to injury and were hit with the death of Milojević.
The unforgettable win for Milojević, however, temporarily eased some of the pain.
“It was tough. It has been a very long week for everybody and [the] organization, understanding how we wanted to pay tribute and celebrate the great Deki and what he meant to our family, having his family here getting the reception from our fans,” Curry told NBC Sports Bay Area after the game. “It’s tough looking at his chair. But coach challenged us to utilize all those emotions and get lost in the game. It was weird at first. But this is our sanctuary.
“And the competition, we know Deki would love nothing more than for us to compete and have fun the best we can. And it feels really good to get a win.”