Many times I have wondered if Darko Milicic has ever read a blog. Like, if he knows anything of the massive reputation he’s developed after almost a decade as the laughingstock of the Internet. Has he heard of Free Darko? Does he occasionally Google “Darko” and get confused when almost all the results are about Donnie Darko? Does he scroll through old RealGM forums on his Blackberry Torch in the bathroom, running the shower so his children can’t hear him cry? The only thing we can know for sure is that his web browser is Safari. The rest is a tantalizing mystery, never to be solved.
But if I had to guess, just based on his facial expressions when he plays, I think that he basically knows what people think of him. He always sort of looks like he’s built an emotional wall to keep out all his haters, and every reaction he has is some variation on angry—lots of air-punching and scary mugs. Basketball does not look like the funnest thing in his life. Could it have stopped being fun when he learned that basically everyone in the arena was laughing at him at all times? Doesn’t that seem kind of reasonable?
This is all part of why I love this Celtics signing so much, and why I’m so very excited for the first time Darko gets introduced in TD Garden. I think Boston could potentially be very kind to him, and that he could return that kindness by contributing value off the bench. Understandably, some disagree. Their arguments are mostly built on the premise that Darko is bad and he sucks. All very reasonable arguments. But I actually think his reputation could help him fit in here.
Like it or not, the Boston sports community gravitates towards doofy, slow, vaguely out-of-shape white guys. The urge to cheer guys like that on is all-powerful in this city, and it’s especially powerful if the white guy sucks. The more he sucks, the more hilarious it is to cheer for him like he’s good! This is a city where BOTH Lou Merloni and Brian Scalabrine now work in sports commentary, mostly because they were sort of bad at their sports and people thought that was funny. This is not necessarily a bad thing, but it is a true thing. You must face the reality of this head-on.
Darko doesn’t exactly fit the Lou-Scal mold because he’s much scarier and he might actually be crazy. There’s a fantastic NSFW video I can’t post but can link to that illustrates these qualities of his quite nicely. But he’s white, and he’s a weirdo, and he’s already famous for sucking. Can’t you see Darko filling the void left by Semih Erden and Luke Harangody as the Celtics’ gawky, uncomfortable fan favorite? Just like those guys, he’s under no pressure to be great: Doc’s plan is almost definitely for Darko to spell KG as a 3rd center. Scrub white players getting limited minutes, if they perform even passably and with any personality at all, always get love in Boston. They get personalized chants. He could easily get a soccer-style “Darkoooooooooooooooooo” every time he steps on the court. Easily! Five capable games and that chant is his.
Darko would never really have experienced that kind of affection in his career—so wouldn’t it be interesting to see how it affected his game? What if he started clawing dudes’ eyes out for extra boards and thudding blocks straight back into their mugs—just to play to his adoring audience? Remember that he’s already got a Boston accent name: do you realize how much fans are going to love saying “Dahko” all the time? Freshly screenprinted t-shirts that say “DAHKO” on the back are probably cooling on the racks at Modell’s this very moment. Who cares, you ask? Ask Nomar if his name didn’t help his career in Boston. Ask him.
I doubt Darko’s ever starred in a local commercial, but in Boston he’d be chin-deep in them. You wouldn’t be able to turn on a single-digit channel without hearing his weird accent shilling tires and discount furniture. “Do you have pizza in Serbia?” some kid asks Darko. “Yes, but not as good as your Papa Gino’s!” he replies loudly. Easy. That commercial would run for eight years.
If sad Darko can put up average numbers on a bad team, happy Darko could probably anchor a reserve defense on this good one. After a few months, he could even promoted to the starting lineup if somebody gets hurt or KG gets tired of playing center. Darko’s goodwill campaign would maybe not last that move, because he’d actually be expected to produce, and he doesn’t seem to flourish in those conditions. If he started going 1-6 and fouling out in 25 minutes every night, his accent would probably not seem quite so adorable anymore. But what an imaginary ride he took us on, huh? So many imaginary ups and downs. We can only dream our hardest that any of it actually happens.