It’s been less than a month since Golden State Warriors assistant coach Dejan Milojević died at age 46 on Jan. 17 in Utah after suffering a heart attack at a team dinner the night before the Warriors were scheduled to play the Utah Jazz.
On Monday, Warriors head coach Steve Kerr, along with Golden State general manager Mike Dunleavy Jr. and a handful of assistant coaches and team staff, were in Belgrade, Serbia, for Milojević’s funeral.
Coincidentally on Monday night, the Warriors were back in Utah to face the Jazz.
“It’s not obviously not the ideal situation, in a lot of senses,” said Warriors assistant Kenny Atkinson, who is acting head coach while Kerr is in Serbia.
“Adding on that we’re here in Utah, where Deki had the incident, it’s tough, but this is what we do in our job.
“As professionals, we’ve got to move forward but also remember, and we talked about that a little bit this morning with the players. There’s no like, ‘Forget it, let’s move on.’ No, let’s remember.”
The Warriors team staff and players knew they were going to eventually be without Kerr and some other members of the staff for a few days once they found out when the funeral was going to be held, but nobody could have predicted it would happen during the team’s next trip to Utah.
Atkinson said the team talked Monday morning about the service that was held for Milojević and made sure all lines of communication were open between players and coaches for anything that would be needed, but pretty quickly they had to face the fact that there was a game to be played.
Milojević’s death was traumatic, of course for his family — wife Nataša and children, Nikola and Maša — but also for the entire Warriors organization.
The team postponed not only that Jan. 17 game against the Jazz, but its next game against the Dallas Mavericks.
Those games were rescheduled for Feb. 15 and April 2, respectively. The Feb. 12 game against the Warriors was a game already on the original regular-season schedule.
Now, even while Kerr and Co. are out of the country and the team is dealing with the emotions of being back in the place that reminds them of very recent trauma, pain and grief, the Warriors are trying to build on their recent success.
But that recent success — heading into the game against the Jazz on a four-game win streak — is likely what is making Monday a day that the players are more equipped to handle.
“We’re in a better place, obviously winning some games,” Atkinson said. “We’re feeling the momentum starting to really kind of take off, so I think that’s helped. You know, you go into today in a losing situation, it can be a little a little harder to deal with.”