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DarioWatch: Kindness Forever — Grief, Empathy, and Friendship Bracelets

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Jared Butler embraces Dario Saric after the game on February 27, 2024 at Capital One Arena in Washington, DC. Dario is wearing a blue Black History Month shirt.
Jared Butler #4 of the Washington Wizards embraces Dario Saric #20 of the Golden State Warriors after the game on February 27, 2024 at Capital One Arena in Washington, DC. | Photo by Stephen Gosling/NBAE via Getty Images

Leviya’s reminder to treat your favorite — and least favorite — NBA players, on the Warriors or otherwise, with kindness.

Somewhere far-off, under the cherry blossoms in the nation’s capital, sits a girl in a Phoenix Suns jersey with the letters peeling off. She’s pulling at her mesh skirt and adjusting her pigtails as she sits on a ledge, waiting for the bus on a hazy Tuesday night. She didn’t get to give her favorite NBA player a friendship bracelet. She feels weird. Actually, she feels awful. She isn’t quite sure why.

Oh, hey. That’s me. I haven’t done a DarioWatch in months. I want to talk about why.

Over the past few months, people across the internet have been wondering why Dario Šarić hasn’t put up another 20-point game — or even 10 points, or even just 5 when the Warriors have really needed it. They’re wondering why he hasn’t been gelling with Chris Paul.

Lately, Dario subs in and he looks lost. He plays for thirty seconds and looks just as lost when he subs out. He’s tripping over his own feet. He’s more turnovers than three-pointers.

You often hear that you’re supposed to be nice to people because you never know what they’re going through. In this case, though, we know what happened, and a lot of us are still being assholes anyway.

Dario Šarić credits Warriors assistant coach Dejan Milojević with keeping him in the NBA this year. He admits to some tampering between himself, Milojević, and Warriors assistant coach Ron Adams while he was playing for the Oklahoma City Thunder. After tearing his ACL at the height of his success with the Suns in 2021, Dario missed the entire 2021-22 NBA season. When he came back, he quietly requested a trade, and ended up being sent to the Thunder. Feeling hopeless and under-valued for the billionth time in his yet-young NBA career, Dario considered going home to Croatia.

“I was playing for the Suns and I wasn’t playing that much. I was thinking I’d maybe just go back to Europe...” Dario said in a press conference on January 24th. “I never talked to [Milojević] before and he just came to me and said, ‘I know you’re not playing a lot, but you just need to kind of stick together. Don’t try to go back to Europe. Chance is going to come for you. That’s for sure. You just be mentally ready.’ But he was coaching for another team. And I kind of said ‘okay, okay.

Deki was the first person from the Warriors to reach out to Dario before Chris Paul advocated for his signing. Were it not for Deki’s tampering on that 2023 trip to OKC, Dario would have gone home. He would have given up. He wouldn’t have been Steph Curry’s only help for the first two months of the season. He wouldn’t have begun a career renaissance that’s been seemingly cut short.

Milojević passed away unexpectedly on January 17th on a team road trip to Salt Lake City, where the team was scheduled to play against the Utah Jazz that night. Since then, Dario has only cracked 10 points three times, with a 10-point night on January 24th, a 14-point performance on January 25th, and 11 points on February 8th.

In an Instagram post, Dario referred to Deki as his big brother.

In his January 24th media availability, Dario said “I kind of felt I can be there for them in this kind of moment, language-wise, culture-wise. So I don’t want to take any credit for it or something it’s just like what I felt the family kind of needed. It was tough for me to kind of handle that mentally too, but I understand if I can help their family at least 1 percent, that’s kind of how I felt about how Deki means for me.”

Despite being there for Deki’s family in the depths of their grief, Dario did not fly to Serbia for Deki’s funeral. He couldn’t. The Warriors had a game that night.

Last month, I finally got to see Dario play in real life for the first time since I was a sophomore in high school. I tweeted about it. It blew up during the game. I didn’t get to give Dario the friendship bracelet I’d made for him.

I was going to write about it for Golden State of Mind, but I just couldn’t do it. found it hard to write anything for a month. That’s where you saw me at the beginning of the article, sitting on a ledge in the rain, feeling like a complete loser, wanting to crawl out of my own skin. I wrote about it on my Patreon:

“I wanted to give Dario a friendship bracelet. He’d – in theory, in my head – helped me through some of the worst times of my life. Why not return the favor? Why not pull up to the game in platform Converse and a bright purple-and-orange Suns jersey bearing Dario’s last name and let him know that no matter how hard it gets, no matter how bad he plays, someone cares about him?

That night, Dario scored five points, logged one assist, and stormed back to the locker room before the clock even hit zero.

I got near-trampled by Steph Curry fans before I could even think to send my pathetic little friendship bracelet sailing over the barrier. I don’t know why I thought it would have worked.

...

I wonder if it would have meant anything if I got to tell Dario he did a great job that night, even if he didn’t. I wonder if it would have changed anything if I got to give him the friendship bracelet, if he’d see it as an amulet – or if its life would end wedged between the seats of a charter bus or left behind on a hotel nightstand.”

Dario has only played in six games this March. He’s received eight DNPs this month alone.

Sports fans like to try to separate the art from the artist in a way that is not possible. You cannot separate a player’s performance — their mind and their body working in harmony, or in this case, disharmony — from their off-court life — coincidentally, also their mind and their body working in harmony, or maybe disharmony (it’s never our business unless they tell us themselves or it’s otherwise made public).

We like to imagine that NBA players are superhuman, that every loss of a loved one will result in Chris Paul’s 61-point high school game, that every collective grief will make Kobe’s spirit take over Khris Middleton or Lebron, that every tragedy inspires greatness. Sometimes, though, that just isn’t how it works. Sometimes you just can’t push yourself any further. Sometimes, there’s just no other choice than to break down.

“Sometimes I’m fine,” Dario said on January 24th. “Sometimes I’m going to cry.”

A person’s wellbeing — a person’s humanity; a person — is more important than whatever we deem their ‘value,’ whether that’s as a moneymaker for an NBA team or just as someone to entertain you on League Pass every other night from October through whenever. For the players we watch and write about, basketball is work. It feeds their families. It might not be the mythical ‘escape’ we fans perceive it as. Every day, Dario, and Kevon, and everyone else on that roster has to go to practice. They have to get on the team plane. They have to play games in far-flung cities, ones with cherry blossoms and with sentimental writers who wait for buses in the rain, and ones with fans who call for them to be cut or traded, and ones with fans who make threats on their lives. They’ll have to go back to Salt Lake City time and time again until they retire. Some of them might even end up playing for the Jazz at some point in their careers.

We don’t know how often the Warriors, as individuals and as a collective, have to relive the trauma of their beloved assistant coach passing away unexpectedly at a team dinner. We don’t know if they relive it at all. We don’t know how well they’re coping, or if they’re even coping at all — and we shouldn’t if they’re not telling us. It’s not our business to know things that people don’t tell us. It is our business, though, to treat others with empathy.

We know that the players we watch every other night are human. We know that they are likely traumatized. And most of all, we know to treat them with kindness. Kindness is innate. It lives deep within all of us. You either nurture it or you lose part of what makes you human.

I don’t care if Dario can’t defend. I don’t care if he’s more turnovers than three-pointers. I don’t care if he can’t get the Warriors through the playoffs. I do care for his wellbeing. I care for his humanity. I hope he’s healing. I hope he finds peace, whether that’s in the United States or back home in Europe, and whether that’s through playing basketball or through stepping away from it. On a larger scale, I hope that, as fans, as the formless amoeba of faces and voices filling up seats in an arena, we treat the people on the court with empathy, regardless of how they perform.

Let your reaction to Dario’s grief be a lesson.

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