The Step Back

Famous tall person Darko Milicic has moved on, and that’s good

It’s difficult to move on from something that didn’t happen to you. There’s a friend of a friend. I’m going to call him Chet. This friend-once-removed does something to your actual friend (who we’ll call Trent) that you hate. Trent hates it too. You never socialized with Chet much in the first place, but now you have no reason to. The only thing you think about when you think of Chet is his Trentsgression. You hold this against him, and you hold on to your vicarious hurt. Chet hurt Trent. Chet is an ass.

But then something terrible happens. Chet and Trent make up. Like, genuinely make up. Trent is apologetic, changes his behaviour, and all is right in the relationship of Chet and Trent (which we’ll call Chent).

So Chent is going strong again, perhaps even stronger for having had the rough patch. However, you weren’t part of the rehabilitation. This catharsis wasn’t yours. You felt the anger as Trent relayed the horrid actions of Chet in the past, and there was nothing to undo that. You had your emotions stirred, and, after processing them, you placed Chet neatly in a mental jerk cubby. That’s where Trent had him. Now Trent has pulled him out.

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Great. Trent’s good now. “Oh, we talked about it. Chet was able to explain to me where he came from, and it kind of makes sense. Yeah, what Chet did was bad, but I understand why it happened. Want to go over to his place on Friday and play Mario Kart?”

How does one process this? The picture of trent in your head is something like this:

It’s like someone describing an elephant and then immediately telling you never to think about that elephant again. Then forever after he just repeats “elephant” at you. Elephant. Chet. Elephant. Elephant. Chet. Elegant. Just kidding. Elephant.

I guess the association softens over time, but there’s no simple way of moving on. In fact, you might even get mad at Trent for moving on himself. Why is Trent such a dumb idiot moron for doing this? Doesn’t he remember what Chet did?

Of course he does. Much more than anyone else. And he understands why he got over it better than anyone else. There’s no good place to put your emotions, so Trent gets them.

Darko Milicic is Trent. There are a few Chets, and there are even more of you.

I am a Pistons fan among my other flaws. This article, maybe a few years ago, would have made me angry. Darko has moved on, is living a life that makes him happy, and doesn’t get emotionally caught in his bust-ness or “unrealized potential.”

This is awesome. This is painful. It can be, anyway. Basketball players fall into a weird idea in our heads that while they’re people, they’re also vessels for our own hopes, expectations, wants, defeats, etc. Darko was imbued with more of these feelings than most.

He was a surprise second overall pick. The first reactions are typically “All right. Time for this kid to prove his worth.” It’s not harsh to say he fell short. Basketball just wasn’t for him.

Detroit just wasn’t for him. He was playfully labeled the human victory cigar in their championship season. If he was on the floor, that meant the game was over. Maybe next year he’d be better or more important. Or maybe next year. He wasn’t. Then he was gone.

When he left, it didn’t hurt that he was gone, it was that Carmelo (or Wade or Bosh) never came in his place. The hopes attributed to that amazing draft class fell to him instead. Before they could come close to being fulfilled, he moved on. Fans didn’t.

Things could go differently in Orlando though. He played more. He improved from “ew” to “oh okay” in his only full season there. Orlando was reclaiming him, one could think. He was still an extremely young player; he could keep growing. The Magic finished that season 5-1 with Darko averaging over 20 minutes and a +3 net rating per game. If you wanted to see hope, you could. Then he was gone.

Memphis saw that hope. They signed him for over $6,000,000 a year. They not only saw potential, they invested in it. It’s easy to say we “could” be the team to fix him. It’s harder to say we “will.”

They didn’t. They traded him to New York, who traded him to Minnesota, who waived him a couple years later. Five minutes with the Celtics happened. Then he was gone.

Stories would come out years later about his partying, his work ethic, his anger, his moments of self-revulsion:

“Don’t trade for me for the love of God, I don’t want to play in the NBA anymore, I’ll ruin your team. I’ll fuck up the team chemistry, do not trade for me.”

Chet broke Trent. Chent got better. We get mad at Trent.

The memories of bad things are still clear as glass that’s particularly clear. By what right does move on when I still haven’t?

That would be me two years ago. Maybe even more recently, I’m not sure. I imagine there are some people out there who do feel that way, maybe thinking that Darko needs to feel it a bit more, needs to be punished somehow for all those championships and scoring titles never experienced. So now what?

Well, if we can experience vicarious angst, we can feel vicarious happiness. I think that’s called compersion. I read that somewhere. The only way that happens is to go play Mario Kart with that jerk that caused this all in the first place. There’s trouble in moving on through someone else’s pain, but there’s far more to holding on to it.

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