Belgrade native suffered heart attack during private team dinner Tuesday
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 in Utah 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 died in Salt Lake City, where he was hospitalized Tuesday night after the medical emergency happened during a private team dinner. The Warriors had been scheduled to play the Utah Jazz on Wednesday night, a game the NBA postponed.
"We are absolutely devastated by Dejan's sudden passing," coach Steve Kerr said 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."
Outpouring of sympathy
Milojević's death elicited a massive and immediate outpouring of sympathy from the basketball community, and moments of silence were held Wednesday before NBA games. Miami Heat coach Erik Spoelstra called the news "horrific." Atlanta forward Bogdan Bogdanovic — a Serbian, like Milojević — politely declined comment Wednesday before the Hawks' game, saying "I'm sorry. I can't talk about it right now. I feel so bad," while tapping his chest. San Antonio coach Gregg Popovich raved about how good a coach Milojević was.
"You changed my life in such a short time," Warriors rookie Brandin Podziemski wrote on social media. "The most important thing you ever told me was to just smile! Your joy and laughs will forever be missed. Shine down on us from heaven."
WATCH l Raptors coach Darko Rajaković remembers 'role model' Milojević:
Toronto Raptors head coach Darko Rajaković opened his pre-game news conference with a tribute to his close friend, Golden State Warriors assistant coach Dejan Milojević, who died Wednesday in Utah after suffering a heart attack. 'Really tough day for NBA community,' Rajaković said.
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 Nuggets 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.
"The NBA mourns the sudden passing of Golden State assistant coach Dejan Milojević, a beloved colleague and dear friend to so many in the global basketball community," NBA Commissioner Adam Silver said.
Milojević worked closely with Jokic, Los Angeles Clippers centre Ivica Zubac, Orlando centre Goga Bitadze and Houston centre Boban Marjanovic, among others, during his time as a coach in Europe. With the Warriors, he worked primarily with the big men like Kevon Looney, who raved about Milojević's attention to detail.
"Rest in peace, Deki," Dallas Mavericks star Luka Doncic wrote on social media.
NBA Commissioner Adam Silver issued the following statement today regarding the passing of Golden State Warriors assistant coach Dejan Milojević: pic.twitter.com/Ft6akrEZHr
Kerr said he originally learned of Milojević from Kent Lacob, the son of Golden State owner Joe Lacob. And when the Warriors went through some staffing 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."
3 straight Adriatic League MVP awards
Milojević won three consecutive MVP awards in the Adriatic League, taking those trophies in 2004, 2005 and 2006 when the six-foot-seven, 240-pound power forward was at the peak of his playing career. Jokic was MVP of that league in 2015, a year after current Golden State forward Dario Saric was MVP.
His potential in the game came early: Shortly after he began playing, Milojević scored 141 points in a game as a 14-year-old in 1991.
"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 NBA experience through Summer League assistant coach stints with Atlanta, San Antonio and Houston.
Toronto coach Darko Rajaković said he had known Milojević since he was a teenager.
"He was a role model as a player, as a man, as a husband, as a coach — somebody that I really admired and have a lot of respect for," Rajaković said. "Unfortunately, last night, his heart stopped working and he left his wife and two kids behind and a big, big legacy."
Added former Golden State assistant and current Sacramento head coach Mike Brown: "Not only was he an extremely talented coach, he was an even better person."
A rescheduled date for the Warriors-Jazz game was not immediately announced. The Jazz said tickets for Wednesday night would be honoured at the rescheduled game. Golden State is next scheduled to play at home Friday against Dallas.
Milojević is survived by his wife, Natasa, and their children, Nikola and Masa.