The Darko Ages
How magical thinking and racism produced the NBA’s most notorious draft bust.
By Jack Hamilton|Posted Thursday, June 27, 2013, at 8:45 AM
Ten years ago, a young man destined to transform the sport of basketball was drafted into the NBA. He hadn’t played a single minute in college and had appeared on the cover of a national magazine before turning 18. “He’s going to own the game,” one scout declared.
Darko Milicic did not own the game. A decade after he was chosen with the No. 2 pick in the 2003 NBA Draft, he’s not even playing in the NBA. The only player drafted above him, LeBron James, is celebrating his fourth league MVP and second NBA title; the three taken after him—Carmelo Anthony, Chris Bosh, and Dwyane Wade—are likely bound for the Hall of Fame. ...
How did so many of the league’s talent evaluators convince themselves of something that now seems so absurd? As Pistons GM Joe Dumars himself admitted last year, the Pistons didn’t know all that much about Milicic when they drafted him. “With Darko, we may have had two sources of information. That was it,” Dumars said.
Joe Dumars, white racist
Darko was the dubious beneficiary of a hazy mixture of groupthinking and magical thinking, a pre–YouTube moment made of wishful scouting reports from distant lands and flavored by a hint of racism. Milicic was the idealized vision of the Euro prodigy, a fantasy of the young and impossibly skilled white big man that proved so elusive in reality that it was practically cryptozoological. ... And as one unnamed insider told ESPN the Magazine for its cover story on Milicic: “The brothers are gonna respect him.”
Ah yes, “the brothers.” In case the racial overtones of all this weren’t suitably naked, Darko offered a potent Great White Hope-fulness at a time when dominant white American big men had seemingly gone the way of Bill Walton’s right foot. The great imagined fear of the prep-to-pro era was that (black) American teenagers would use their talent to con generous NBA benefactors out of millions, only to turn their attention to dunk contests and rap albums as they destroyed the moral fabric of basketball. (The fact that the NBA finally banned American high schoolers the same year that it implemented its controversial dress code hardly seemed coincidental.) ...
And Darko didn’t even have a totally terrible pro career—he logged serviceable years in Orlando, Memphis, and Minnesota, and for a long while his name graced one of the finest basketball blogs of all time. He just had a terrible career for a player drafted ahead of Carmelo Anthony, Chris Bosh, and Dwyane Wade, and as such is destined to spend eternity as the answer to a boringly easy trivia question.
As jody would say: two words: Hasheem Thabeet. The #2 pick in the 2009 draft, the 7'3" Tanzanian has been an even bigger bust, but is much less ragged upon than Darko. Thabeet signed a $15 million three year contract after his junior year at the U. of Connecticut. He started 13 games as a rookie, but has only started 7 games in the three seasons since. Through the same age, Darko started 185 games.
So, why is Thabeet just boring and forgotten (even though he started 4 games last season at age 25 for Oklahoma City), and Darko "notorious?"