BELGRADE, Serbia (AP) — Golden State assistant coach Dejan Milojevic was buried Monday in his native Serbia, with many members of the Warriors' staff among the hundreds of mourners present for the funeral on a rainy day at a Belgrade cemetery.
Among the Warriors coaches and staff who made the trip: head coach Steve Kerr, assistant coaches Chris DeMarco and Ron Adams, general manager Mike Dunleavy, team basketball and business liaison Zaza Pachulia, and team vice president for player health and performance Rick Celebrini.
Kerr and those staffers who attended the funeral missed Monday night's rescheduled game at Utah. The Warriors were in Salt Lake City when the 46-year-old Milojevic had a heart attack at a team dinner on Jan. 16. He died the next day, and that night's Jazz-Warriors game was postponed.
Assistant coach Kenny Atkinson was serving as head coach for Monday's rescheduled game.
“It's not, obviously, the ideal situation in a lot of senses,” Atkinson said before the game. “And then from a personal standpoint, adding on that we're here in Utah, where Deki had the incident ... it's tough. But this is what we do in our jobs as professionals. We've got to move forward, but also remembering.”
Milojevic — whose flower-draped casket was carried Monday by his former Serbian teammates — was a mentor to two-time NBA MVP Nikola Jokic of the Denver Nuggets, among many other players. Milojevic was part of the staff that helped the Warriors win the 2022 NBA championship.
The Warriors have honored his memory by putting his initials on their jerseys and on the apron of their home floor. Atkinson spoke with Kerr on Monday, about both the funeral and the game.
Milojevic's death triggered a massive outpouring of sympathy from the basketball community and fans in his homeland, where he was a star player with Partizan Belgrade and other clubs in Serbia, Montenegro, Turkey and Spain before turning to coaching.
Predrag Danilovic, president of the Serbian Basketball Federation, said there was no person who did not respect and love Milojevic.
“A great basketball player, great coach left us, and above all a great man, a man without a single stain. I had that honor and pleasure to be friends with him even though we did not play together,” Danilovic said at a formal commemoration for Milojevic on Saturday.
Marko Keselj of Serbia’s Ministry of Sports and a former basketball player said the sport was Milojevic’s life.
“With his positive energy he brought out the best in us,” Keselj said. “He motivated us to be better in every way, as people and as players. Deki was a friend, mentor, he was a leader.”
Milojevic was in his third season with the Warriors. He previously coached in Serbia — where he once worked with a young Jokic before the current Denver star came to the United States — along with Montenegro, plus had been an assistant coach for the Serbian national team alongside current Atlanta assistant Igor Koskoskov.
Milojevic worked closely 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.
Milojevic won three consecutive MVP awards in the Adriatic League, which comprises teams from former Yugoslavia, 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 was MVP of that league in 2015.
Before joining the Warriors, Milojevic had NBA experience through Summer League assistant coach stints with Atlanta, San Antonio and Houston.
Milojevic is survived by his wife, Natasa, and their children, Nikola and Masa.
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The Associated Press