Chauncey Billups Had To Tell Darko Milicic To Shower With The Team, And I'm Beginning To Understand His Struggles
ESPN- At first, he was just a teenager, an ocean away from home in a culture he didn’t understand. For example, Darko would go home to shower after practices or games instead of staying in the locker room to clean up; he didn’t realize that in America, the players all showered together.
“So I had to teach Darko,” says Chauncey Billups, who played in Detroit from 2002-08, “like, no, when we’re done playing, when we’re done practicing, you put your towel on and you go get in the shower. That’s what we do here.”
Obviously there's a lot of steps that a complete bust of a lottery pick has to take to get from the NBA Draft podium to a 125 acre apple tree farm in Serbia, so I am most certainly not about to "Dr. Phil" one of the most uneventful, yet interesting careers in all of sports. I will, however, paint this picture for you...
Imagine you're a gangly European teenager that was selected between the most can't-miss, elite prospect in decades and a one-and-done college player that was coming off a National Championship winning performance. You walk in your new locker room and meet a team that rosters a host of veterans with strong personalities and championship aspirations who play a defensive-minded system that's already set in stone. Never mind that you aren't particular sure how much you love basketball, because trying to get acclimated to playing a totally different style of it at a far higher level while facing the inherent pressure of being the #2 pick is already causing you massive amounts of anxiety. Then, one day, you're getting ready to walk to your car to take another sweaty, introspective ride home after yet another rough practice, and the leader of the team comes up to you and says "hey man, in the NBA we all shower together".
By all accounts, Darko Milicic was very much a deer in the headlights during his first season, and that deer got unexpectedly led into his first ever group shower that was occupied by Rasheed Wallace, Ben Wallace, and Tayshaun Prince. I'm not even sure that "intimidated" is the right word, because I would only be mildly surprised to learn that that particular experience has him traumatized to this day. We are talking about someone that almost certainly wondered "what in the fuck am I even doing here?" on a daily basis, who then begrudgingly sauntered in to the showers to see his shit stirring starting power forward scraping the floor with his 3rd leg. When I was a teenager I would turn my back to the room to put my jock on, and Darko Milicic was washing a thick layer of shame off him while standing next to a guy with big enough balls to earn the nickname 'Big Shot'.
It's very obvious Darko Milicic was never able to steady himself after the initial culture shock, and his passion for the game clearly never matched the size he happened to be born with that allowed him to play it at a high enough level to get drafted before Dwyane Wade. That said, a literal, unspoken dick measuring contest that he wasn't at all prepared for probably didn't help. I may be exaggerating here, but imagine being an 18 year old that's dealing with a lack of confidence who accidentally catches eyes with a soaking wet, nude Ben Wallace. I'd probably be ready to pack up my balls and catch the next flight to the opposite side of the world too.