SAN FRANCISCO — The Golden State Warriors held their first team practice since the death of assistant coach Dejan Milojevic on Monday as the franchise looks to turn the page and refocus on basketball.
«It’s hard to describe that last week,» Warriors coach Steve Kerr said. «Heartbreaking. Devastating. It’s the saddest thing I have ever been a part of in the NBA … The last five days have been full of the shock, the emotion, the extreme outpouring of love from all over the world.»
The Warriors began their Monday session by watching a nearly 15-minute tribute coming out of Belgrade, Milojevic’s hometown. A tribute game was being held between Mega Basket, the team Milojevic coached for, and Partizan, the team which he starred for as a player.
Players wore warmup shirts that read «Sometimes even the biggest fighters leave us.» A massive banner of Milojevic’s face was displayed in the stands. The arena was standing room only.
«I’m not sure I’ve ever seen anything like that pregame dedication,» Kerr said. «I think we got a better sense of what Deki meant to his countrymen. Of course, how much he meant to us and [his family] Natasha, Masha and Nikola.»
After watching the footage from Serbia, the team took an hour to regroup and settle their emotions before beginning the practice portion of the afternoon. It was the first time they had been on the court as a team since Milojevic died suddenly last Wednesday after suffering a heart attack Tuesday night at a team dinner in Salt Lake City.
Nearly 75% of the players, coaches and staff members who were on the road trip with the Warriors were in attendance at the dinner, and witnessed what was described as a «traumatizing scene.»
Kerr said counseling has been made available to everyone within the organization, but especially those who were at the dinner.
«[Today] was definitely a little different,» Warriors center Kevon Looney said. Looney had worked closely with Milojevic since the coach’s arrival in 2021. Milojevic was brought to Golden State specifically to work with the team’s big men.
During the free-shooting portion to close practice, Looney was working with player development coach Anthony Vereen at a different basket than normal.
«You’ve got to come to work and got to get a whole new routine. There’s a whole different vibe to practice not having him here. He was an integral part of our team, an integral part of my day-to-day routine. It’s definitely different.»
Hours after Milojevic’s death, the NBA announced that night’s game against the Utah Jazz was postponed. Friday’s game against the Dallas Mavericks was also pushed to a later date. Kerr said there was no way the team could have played either of those games following Milojevic’s sudden death.
But, Golden State will resume its season on Wednesday when it hosts the Atlanta Hawks.
«I am looking forward to getting back on the court and trying to get lost in my love for the game,» Looney said. «I’ll think about all of our memories and the teachings that he gave me and try to honor him that way. That’s the only way I know how.»
The Warriors are finalizing their plans on how they will honor Milojevic — not just ahead of Wednesday’s game, but for the remainder of the season. At practice on Monday, Kerr sported a black T-shirt that said «Brate» on it, the Serbian word for brother, and had a small heart with «DM» in the upper corner.
The shirts will also be sent to the other franchises around the association.
«Wednesday will be unbelievably emotional,» Kerr said. «There is no handbook for this. We will honor Deki the best way we know on Wednesday night. We will be there to play a basketball game. We will find a way to mourn and grieve and play all in the same evening.»
As Kerr tried to figure out how best to help his team turn the page, he approached team advisor Ron Adams for advice.
Adams told Kerr to ask himself: What would Milojevic want the team to do?
«I literally could picture Deki smiling, laughing and saying, ‘You motherf—ers need to go win a basketball game,» Kerr said. «We are going to do everything we can to win and we’re going to enjoy life no matter what. That’s who he was and how we’re going to continue.»