Coming to terms with Darko Milicic


 Darko Milicic was selected before Carmelo Anthony and the Detroit Pistons won the NBA championship in 2004. You can not separate those facts.

Here are two important facts. First, the Detroit Pistons drafted Darko Milicic over Carmelo Anthony, Dwyane Wade, and Chris Bosh in 2003. Second, the Pistons became NBA champions the following season. Facts are great because they are true. Something less great is a counter-factual. As the name implies, they are inherently less true.

Unfortunately, another fact is that facts do not always make for great conversation at a bar, or fill eight hours of sports talk radio. Thus, we find ourselves trapped in an endless loop of what might have been.

Thanks to some old friends, Tayshaun Prince and Richard Hamilton, the Detroit Pistons community is pressing replay on an all too familiar story. The one where the Pistons chose the hyped but unknown quantity in Darko Milicic rather than the perceived sure thing in Carmelo Anthony.

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Every Pistons fan can recite the 2004 team’s starting lineup from heart. Chauncey Billups, Rip, Tayshaun, Rasheed Wallace and Ben Wallace. But what if? You can almost hear John Mason’s voice now. Just imagine it.

And out of Syracuse, 6’8” forward, CARM-M-M-M-MELO ANTHONYYYY.”

Surely they would have won the 2004 title running away. In 2005 would the Spurs even be within 30 points to have Robert Horry tear out Detroit’s collective soul? And then in 2007 what if the Pistons had traded Hamilton and Prince for Kobe Bryant? At that point the Golden State Warriors might have needed a few more wins to break the record.

Or, you know, not.

With one of those 2003 stars, the Pistons might have been a dynasty. The team’s biggest problem could have been finding a contractor for the new trophy case.

But maybe the locker room falls apart without Milicic. After all, what brings people closer together than having someone to collectively tease? Are those tips frosted? Oh man.

The point is, there is so much more to basketball than a player’s 2K rating. You will not hear many outside of Serbia claim that Milicic is better than, well, almost anyone in that draft. But that does not mean history would have played out as favorably without him.

Next: How the Pistons can create offense without Reggie Jackson

In the world where the Pistons drafted him, the 2004 championship in fact happened. Sure, a few more of them would be great. But if Joe Dumars were to invent time travel, would he risk not having any for a chance at multiple?

As the Pistons start another season it is time to put the past to rest. The Pistons won their championship and brought joy to an entire city. Darko was a part of that gift, and for that I thank him.

Cheers Darko.