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Less than 48 hours earlier, at an upscale Italian restaurant in downtown Salt Lake City, players and coaches had witnessed assistant coach Dejan Milojevic suffer a heart attack. An ambulance rushed him to a local hospital, where he died Wednesday morning. He was 46.
The NBA postponed Golden State’s games Wednesday night against the Jazz and Friday night against the Mavericks. But come Sunday, players must filter back into Chase Center to start preparing for Wednesday’s home game against the Hawks. Life moves on. Forty-two regular-season games remain.
This hardly means the Warriors will stop grieving Milojevic’s death once they resume their day-to-day routine. According to three mental-health experts who spoke to the Chronicle, it’s just the opposite. Chasing a playoff berth in Milojevic’s honor can unite the Warriors in a time of crisis and help them progress through their collective grief.
Dr. Ilan Danan, a sports neurologist at Cedars-Sinai Kerlan-Jobe Institute in Los Angeles who consults for several pro teams, cited studies that suggest seeing a tragic event is much more traumatic than merely hearing about it.
In situations like the Warriors’, some sort of reset is often necessary. Kerr told his team Thursday to take time away from basketball so it can focus on grieving. If anyone needs to speak to a mental-health expert, the Warriors will provide one.
Not counting the All-Star break, Golden State is about to have the NBA’s longest midseason hiatus since the Spurs went nine days between games in February 2021. This eight-day pause between games is also the longest in Warriors history.
“You hear a lot of times athletes talk about how they want to get back to their routine as fast as possible because they want that distraction,” Danan said. “That’s understandable. But I think in a circumstance like this one, it makes sense for Warriors players to take some extra time to grieve however they need to.”
By returning to practice Sunday, Golden State should be ready conditioning-wise for Wednesday’s game against the Hawks. The bigger question is whether the Warriors will feel mentally ready.