The first pick in the 2003 NBA Draft was a no-brainer.
High school phenom LeBron James was going to the Cleveland Cavaliers.
The jury was still out on number two. Would it be Carmelo Anthony, fresh off leading Syracuse to the 2003 NCAA championship? Would it be Chris Bosh, the versatile big man out of Georgia Tech? Would it be the high-flying Dwyane Wade, who led the Marquette Golden Eagles to their first Final Four since 1977?
David Stern stepped up to the podium.
“With the second pick in the 2003 NBA Draft, the Detroit Pistons select Darko Milcic from Serbia and Montenegro.”
The international player was a hot commodity among NBA scouts. Preceded by hype, he was the next big thing from across the pond, a nimble big man who could dominate down low and stretch beyond the arc.
Darko Milicic’s career started at its peak.
Darko Milicic Basketball Career
The league was longing for a European diamond in the rough, the next Dirk Nowitzki. NBA teams wanted Darko to be that guy, but did he?
Milcic was introduced to basketball through his father Milorad. Darko was tall, so the sport was a natural athletic inclination. It was something he did, not something he was passionate about.
He became good enough to play with the junior team of the Serbian professional club Hemofarm by 14. Four years later, he heard his name called after James at Madison Square Garden.
The first-round draft pick joined a championship roster in Detroit headed by Larry Brown. His playing time was scarce. Darko grew accustomed to American culture, the luxuries of a professional athlete, and an NBA Finals victory in his rookie year.
Darko’s maturity issues were glaring. He punched walls, he’d drink before practice, he didn’t listen to coaches. Less than three years after being drafted by Detroit, he was traded to the Orlando Magic. He then made his way to the Memphis Grizzlies, New York Knicks, Minnesota Timberwolves, and Boston Celtics.
Expensive cars and hefty paychecks followed. Getting over the hump didn’t.
Darko never developed into the darling scouts dreamed he would be. He retired with the Boston Celtics in 2012 due to personal matters. The nights of squaring off against the Los Angeles Lakers, LA Clippers, and budding generational talents such as Kevin Durant had run its course.
In 10 seasons, the 2003 second-overall pick had career averages of 6 points and 4.2 rebounds.
Darko Milicic Now
Darko packed his bags and moved back to his native Serbia. He took a little time to find his path, including a kickboxing stint, but he eventually found his calling: farming.
The former professional basketball player owns an apple orchard and cherry farm in his hometown of Novi Sad. He funded the operation with money from his NBA days, which still sits nicely in his bank account.
According to Spotrac, Darko earned $53,078,335 in his career.
He’s come to terms with his reputation as one of the biggest draft busts in NBA history.
In a 2017 profile by Sam Borden, Darko tells the ESPN writer that he thinks of his basketball-playing self as someone who is dead. Borden notes the detail and passion Darko emulates when talking about his crop. It’s something that wasn’t evident during his NBA career.
The hooper turned kickboxer turned farmer is married with three kids and is an active member of the community. In 2019, he joined the amateur Serbian club I Came to Play. The country’s basketball mantle has been passed to Denver Nuggets superstar Nikola Jokic.
In a draft class headlined by James, D-Wade, Bosh, and Melo, Milicic is an outlier. That’s OK, he’s got his cherries.