For Dejan Milojević, the Golden State Warriors and Atlanta Hawks stood united on one sideline near their team benches and listened as the Serbian national anthem played in his honor.
Each Warrior player then placed an extra jersey with Milojević’s name on the back worn during warmups on one of the coaching chairs, which also featured a special black T-shirt with the word “BRATE” draped over the seat — brate is the word in Serbian for brother, as their coach called them all.
Golden State returned to the court for the first time since losing its beloved assistant coach last week in Salt Lake City. Milojević suffered a heart attack last Tuesday night at a team dinner and died the next day.
A tribute video played on the big screen and photos all over Chase Center showed a beaming “Deki,” as they so fondly called him.
Two members of the Hawks were right next to Warriors coach Steve Kerr as he spoke of Milojević’s profound impact on every person he encountered. Atlanta guard Bogdan Bogdanovic, a native of Belgrade, played for Milojević’s former Partizan team. Hawks assistant coach Igor Kokoskov was the Serbian national team coach and hired Milojević onto his staff.
Milojević′s wife, Natasa, holding a bouquet of flowers, and their children Masa and Nikola were surrounded by love from a lengthy standing ovation that Kerr requested in lieu of a moment of silence.
Kerr treasured Milojević’s smile and cherished seeing all the images that captured him so perfectly.
“The smile is perfect. He was constantly smiling and laughing,” Kerr said.
The Warriors only resumed practice Monday following the postponement of games against the Jazz last Wednesday after his death and also Friday’s scheduled home game with Dallas.
They are now wearing patches featuring the coach’s initials — DM — inside a heart. The same logo is also on the court at Chase Center.
“It’s very emotional just to walk into the building for the first time on a game night without Deki. Obviously we’re all wearing our shirts, and there’s images of him with his ever-present smile,” Kerr said. “It’s very emotional because it’s all still very raw and surreal in a lot of ways. We’ve been practicing the last few days and there’s not a whole lot to say to prepare for something like this. You just dive in headfirst, stick together, and go try to win a basketball game, and honor our brother.”
Hawks coach Quin Snyder praised Kerr for his courage and leadership during such a heartbreaking time, and has been doing all he can to support both men on his side.
“You can feel the emotion and the pain. Both have been very stoic but it’s not difficult at all to recognize the depth of emotion and how they’re mourning,” Snyder said. “In some ways, to be here tonight and for those guys to be able to participate, in this evening, in the celebration of Deki’s life is a good thing. For us and for them knowing how close they were.
“As I said, there is no question that they’re feeling this in their own way, in a personal way. Obviously different from the Warriors team and all of their players, coaches, and their organization but, being Serbian there’s a unique connection that those guys have in this instance.”
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