There are few players more synonymous with the word bust than Darko Milicic. The second overall pick in the 2003 NBA Draft is likely the only player selected in the top five that won’t be headed to the Hall of Fame one day, despite managing to carve out a career that lasted more than a decade.
Milicic recently sat down with ESPN to discuss the pressures of being drafted in between LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony in the 2003 draft and how he’s found solace and happiness in his life outside of basketball. The 12-year NBA veteran went into great detail about why he chose to stay in Serbia after he retired, how former teammate Chauncey Billups taught him how to drive among many other life lessons.
However, Milicic, who earned close to 53 million dollars over the span of his NBA career, best story is the tale of the time he uppercutted a horse after it nearly trampled his son.
But on this day, it was Lazar in the saddle, and as Darko watched by the railing, the horse took off. All was fine, but then the horse began to buck and Lazar began to tremble a little bit and suddenly the boy pitched off the side of the saddle, hanging upside down alongside the horse’s flank.
Darko screamed. One of Lazar’s legs was caught in a stirrup. His body shook limply, banging against the horse’s flanks. His tiny head dangled near the horse’s hooves as the animal galloped. If Lazar fell, he would be trampled.
Darko and another man ran out into the ring, shouting. They were able to control the horse after a few seconds, but even once the horse was subdued, Darko found himself quivering. He scooped Lazar up and held him close. Lazar was crying. Darko was so scared for his son and so angry that he turned around and slugged the horse in the face. (I checked with Radoslav Bursac, who runs the stable — the horse was fine.)
The former NBA player who’s nickname on his Basketball-Reference page is The Human Victory Cigar, revealed that he and then coach Larry Brown clashed so much that Milicic would show up to practices still buzzed from the previous night as a way to rebel against Brown. Milicic also revealed that he thought about leaving the NBA in 2006, but instead played an extra six seasons because teams kept thinking they were the one’s who were going to unlock his potential. Milicic described in detail the night he finally decided to call it quits while a member of the Celtics.
On Nov. 17, 2012, the Celtics had a game against the Toronto Raptors. That day, as the players were filtering into the locker room, Darko knocked on Doc Rivers’ office door.
Like most of Darko’s coaches before him, Rivers did not see Darko playing a significant role on his team. To that point, through nine games, Darko had played a total of five minutes.
But Rivers liked Darko, liked having him in practice. So he welcomed Darko into his office and listened as Darko told him he had come to say goodbye.
“In the center position, if something goes bad for the team, you have [Jason] Collins, you have [Fab] Melo,” Darko said. “So I’m packed and going home.”
Darko recalls Rivers being stunned. “Darko, what are you talking about? Where are you going? You are going to play tonight.”
Darko was unbowed. “Doc, that’s it. I’m not playing tonight, I’m not playing ever again. Thank you guys for trying. It didn’t go well. I’m out.”
The former No. 2 overall pick said he no longer watches the NBA, and lives happily on a farm in Serbia where he currently owns 125 acres of land with apple trees and has a deep passion for cherries, exporting the fruit to places such as Dubai, Russia, and parts of Africa.