“History has many cunning passages”
T.S. Eliot, Gerontion
It is difficult to understand how Milos felt at the beginning of the 2015-2016 season. The NBA began to call, interested in Milos’s unique basketball talent. But he wouldn’t go, at least until the chance finally came to lift that cup over his head.
CSKA dominated the season, as usual, and played the TOP 16 and the playoffs showing great self-confidence, together with the fighting spirit Itoudis was trying to inoculate in the players. So, when they got to the Final 4, there was something different in the players, a sensation that this could be the time.
In the semifinal, Milos came from the bench, and dished 6 assists. CSKA built an early lead and kept it until the last period, when a Lokomotiv last effort neared it to 6 points, though not enough to undo Nando De Colo’s 30 points effort.
The final, against Fenerbahce, put Dimitris Itoudis against his old master, Zeljko Obradovic, for a challenge full of tension.
The outcome was a high scoring game, in which the two teams played incessantly. CSKA started strong, reaching twenty points of advantage at halftime. In the third and fourth quarter, as usual, CSKA suffered Fenerbahce’s comeback until, at the end, the teams were both at 83 points.
In the following overtime, the battle continued. Milos did not shoot, he just passed the ball, leaving the scoring duties to De Colo and Hines. At twenty seconds to the end, he scored the free throws that definitely made CSKA unreachable for Fenerbahce, De Colo’s other two free-throws made it the definitive 101 -96.
Milos’s Odyssey had come to an end. He had finally won the Euroleague. His legacy in European basketball was definitely sealed. In seven seasons, he had been 6 times at the final four, and won only one. That one.
The great players before him, the Drazen Petrovic, Toni Kukoc, Sasa Djordjevic, Diamantidis, had won earlier than him. This made their eventual later defeats less important. For Milos it was different: the Euroleague seemed to elude him, affecting his status of greatness.
Milos belongs to a class of his own. He possesses a creative basketball mind, that makes him do passes and plays nobody would dare. Sometimes, this creativity hurts him. It is similar to a beast moving inside him. Victory is important, but it is not the first thing. The obligation to win botheres him. Players like Milos want something different: explore new paths, try different kinds of game.
This, though, doesn’t exempt him from his responsibilities. He knows that, as the classiest player of his team, he HAS to try to score the winning basket. Moreover, he does, he does try. However, the way he does is the one of the gambler, not the one of the surgeon who has to succeed to keep the patient alive. He “tries”, and when he does, he does not own the same deadly confidence the Spanoulis, Diamantidis, Jasikevicius do.
Clearly, this makes him a different player. Not necessarily a Petrovic, more a Delibasic or a Maravitch. One of those who matter, because you want to see what they’re going to do, you want them to wonder you, to show you the unthinkable.
For this aspect, the NBA is his house. In 2017, after failing another Euroleague, Milos left CSKA and headed to the Los Angeles Clippers, where he immediately made people crazy with his passing mastery.
In that 2017 semifinal against his personal nemesis, Olympiakos and Spanoulis, 8 seconds to the end, CSKA down by two, Milos grabbed a rebound and dribbled to the offence. 15000 people at Semir Erden arena knew he was going to shoot. You could feel it. You could breathe it. A couple of minutes before, Vassilis Spanoulis, who, for three quarters, had roamed around the court hopelessly trying to do something, had scored a deadly three pointer that brought Olympiakos up of one. Milos had immediately answered with a three that seemed to break every curse on himself.
In those eight seconds, Milos felt the ball burning, it was his last play in a Euroleague semifinal and his last chance to leave another mark. He reached the three-point line, faked a penetration, stepped back and shot. The ball went up, it seemed like it would not come down, but when it did, the rim let go a sound like a scream, Spanoulis grabbed the rebound and the game ended after a couple of free throws.
As he went back to the bench, shaking his uncombed hair, that is his most likely symbol, Itoudis approached, his arm wide, the hand open at the end, waiting for Milos to give him a five.
It was like the whole dome was doing the same. Everybody knew he was unlikely to come back, and the spectators were happy that they had seen flashes of the old Milos, dashing assists and shooting from impossible distances.
Because in the end victory is important, but only beauty is truly remembered.
And Milos’s inner Socratic demon is not the one of victory; it is the one of creation, Basketball creation. The same one that makes him try the impossible in the key moment, that makes him shoot without confidence and miss the winning basket. But it is also the same one that makes us look at him and search for his wonders.
So it does not matter that he won only one Euroleague. Hadn’t he won, it’d be the same. We’d admire him anyway. And even more for all the defeats, and for all the times he stood up facing the contempt of the people who wanted him to succeed.
Because Milos is Milos, and you take him as he is. You don’t dispute this kind of greatness.
You can also read the first part here