Golden State Warriors assistant coach Dejan Milojević, a mentor to two-time NBA MVP Nikola Jokic and a former star player in his native Serbia, died Wednesday after suffering a heart attack, the team announced. Milojević, part of the staff that helped the Warriors win the 2022 NBA championship, was 46.
Milojević was hospitalized in Salt Lake City after suffering a medical emergency Tuesday night at a private team dinner, the Warriors said.
“We are absolutely devastated by Dejan's sudden passing," coach Steve Kerr said Wednesday in a statement released by the team. “This is a shocking and tragic blow for everyone associated with the Warriors and an incredibly difficult time for his family, friends, and all of us who had the incredible pleasure to work with him.”
The NBA postponed Golden State’s game that was to be played at Utah on Wednesday night. A rescheduled date was not immediately announced. The Jazz said tickets for Wednesday would be honored at the rescheduled game.
“You were not only a basketball master, you were an amazing human being,” Dylan Ennis, a longtime international pro who was coached by Milojević, wrote on Twitter. “You will be missed by so many.”
Milojević was in his third season with the Warriors. He previously coached in Serbia — where he once worked with a young Jokic before the now-Denver star came to the United States — along with Montenegro. He had been a head coach for eight years in Europe and previously was an assistant coach for the Serbian national team alongside current Atlanta assistant Igor Koskoskov.
He worked with Jokic, Los Angeles Clippers center Ivica Zubac, Orlando center Goga Bitadze and Houston center Boban Marjanovic, among others, during his time as a coach in Europe. Kerr said he originaly learned of Milojević from Kent Lacob, the son of Golden State owner Joe Lacob. And when the Warriors went through some staff changes in 2021, Kerr decided to pursue Milojević.
It took some convincing, but Milojević finally agreed to take the offer. Kerr was thrilled.
“I immediately saw what Kent was talking about,” Kerr said in a video produced by the Warriors last year. “He was so great to be around. At the same time, he had this amazing basketball background both as a player and a coach. It made so much sense for us to bring Deki in.”
Milojević won three consecutive MVP awards in the Adriatic League, taking those trophies in 2004, 2005 and 2006 when the 6-foot-7, 240-pound power forward was at the peak of his playing career. Jokic would be MVP of that league in 2015, a year after current Golden State forward Dario Saric was MVP there.
No player has more Adriatic MVP’s than Milojević, and the stories of some games in his youth were legendary. Among them: how he scored 141 points as a 14-year-old in 1991, 83 of those points coming in the second half after his coach ordered he take all the shots.
“I teach all my players that basketball is not a job, but that they should enjoy the game,” Milojević told Bosnian radio-television outlet RTV in a 2018 interview. “Because if you want to do something for the next 20 years, then you have to love it a lot. It’s not easy to endure all these efforts if you don’t like something. Only those who have a sincere love for the game can handle everything with great success.”
Before joining the Warriors, Milojević had prior NBA experience through Summer League assistant-coach stints with Atlanta, San Antonio and Houston.
Tributes began pouring in quickly after Milojević’s death was announced, including from the Spanish club Valencia, where he spent two seasons. “The Club wants to send his family a lot of encouragement and strength in these difficult times, and convey all our support to them,” read Valencia’s statement.
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