The Golden State Warriors paid an emotional tribute to Dejan Milojevic on Wednesday as the team returned to play for the first time since the Serbian assistant coach died last week from a heart attack.
In a moving pre-game ceremony ahead of the Warriors’ 134-112 home win over Atlanta, Golden State head coach Steve Kerr led a lengthy ovation to salute the 46-year-old affectionately known as “Deki”.
Warriors players wore team jerseys emblazoned with Milojevic’s name while the Serbian national anthem was played in honor of the late coach.
Players then placed their jerseys on Milojevic’s usual seat on the Warriors bench.
Warriors players also wore t-shirts with the word “Brate” — “brother” in Serbian — during the warm-up. That gesture was mirrored in Dallas, where Mavericks star Luka Doncic wore the same t-shirt ahead of his team’s clash with Phoenix.
“The world lost a beautiful soul last week,” Kerr told a hushed Chase Center crowd on Wednesday. “Deki was a wonderful friend, a hell of a basketball coach, a great man and most importantly, a beautiful grandson, son, husband and father.
“What he meant to us is a huge part of who we are. He’s a part of our soul. The outpouring of love that we received this past week from all over the world … is a direct reflection of the joy and love that he brought to everybody he met.
“So tonight, rather than a moment of silence, I’d like for all of us to give Deki an ovation that he can hear up in heaven.”
While several Warriors players appeared to be overcome with emotion during the tributes, with Klay Thompson and Draymond Green both choking back tears, the team were able to rally to victory over Atlanta.
Stephen Curry finished with 25 points, Thompson bagged 24, while Jonathan Kuminga poured in 25 off the bench from a perfect 11-of-11 shooting display.
Curry admitted the emotion of the occasion had been challenging.
“It was tough,” Curry said after the game. “It’s been a very long week for everybody in our organization, understanding how we wanted to honor, and pay tribute to Deki and what he meant to our family.
“It’s tough looking over at his chair. But coach challenged us to utilize all those emotions and get lost in the game. It was weird at first but this is our sanctuary.
“We know Deki would like nothing more than to see us go out there and compete as best we can. It feels really good to get a win.”
Milojevic, who played in Spain and Turkey as well as his homeland, where he began his coaching career, joined the Warriors as an assistant in 2021.
He was part of the staff on the team that won the NBA championship in 2022.
He died last week after collapsing during a team dinner in Salt Lake City, plunging the Warriors and the NBA community into mourning.
Warriors players will play with a patch bearing Milojevic’s initials — “DM” — on team jerseys for the remainder of the season. A DM logo inside a heart will also remain on the Warriors home court for the rest of the season.