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Friday, February 16, 2007
The Curse of Darko

By LZ Granderson
Page 2

Since the addition of Chris Webber, my beloved Detroit Pistons are 11-4. And barring a ridiculous trade -- say, Kobe for Cleveland's Eric Snow and a hill of beans -- the Pistons should find themselves in the NBA Finals for the third time in four seasons this June.

Since I'm a lifelong fan, you'd think that would make me happy.

Tayshaun Prince and Darko Milicic
If Darko keeps improving, it'll hurt Pistons fans even more.
But it doesn't.

In fact, nothing could be further from the truth.

Even if Detroit manages to win another ring this year -- which is not a stretch, as long as Phoenix doesn't make it out of the West -- I always will remember this season as the year the Curse of Darko came to full fruition.

Go ahead Boston, bemoan those 18 consecutive losses. Freak out, New York, that Eddy Curry might cost you Greg Oden or Kevin Durant. I, my friends, must watch the upcoming All-Star Game knowing that GM Joe Dumars passed up four future All-Stars for Darko Milicic.

Count 'em baby: Carmelo Anthony, Chris Bosh, Dwyane Wade and Mehmet Okur.

"Boo hoo, we have Eddy Curry?" Suck it up Knickerbockers, at least Curry's your team's leading scorer. Darko doesn't even play for us anymore. We traded him for Kelvin Cato, another guy who doesn't play for us anymore -- not that we'd want him, but still. Four freaking All-Stars, and we don't even have cap space to show for it. I tell you, within two seasons we will be looking up at the Atlanta Hawks, telling our children how the Curse of Darko killed Detroit Basketball.

Picture this: Summer 2003. The NBA draft is upon us and the Detroit Pistons, fresh off a 50-win season, are sitting pretty with the No. 2 pick in their pocket. It's a chance to solidify the Pistons among the game's elite for at least another decade. An opportunity to build a dynasty that would rival Michael's Bulls. Think about it -- Chauncey, Rip and Melo. How 'bout Tayshaun, Big Ben and Bosh? Hell, Wade, Kid Rock and Aretha Franklin would have been good for at least three rings.

We had the No. 2 pick. We couldn't lose.

So what did we do? We bought into the "Go European" hype and selected Darko.

I was sick then.

I'm near death now.

Melo had just led his team to a national championship. Wade carried Marquette -- you hear me? Mar-friggin'-quette -- to the Final Four. And we went with the unproven, untested 17-year-old who wasn't even starting for his own team back home.

"He's a lot like Dirk!" we were told.

No, he's not. He's a lot like Darko.

Joe Dumars
People won't forget Mr. Dumars took Darko over the likes of Carmelo and D-Wade.
Mehmet Okur is a lot like Dirk, but we let him sign with Utah -- because we had Darko. His Jazz are a combined 4-0 against us the past two seasons, and Okur's numbers against us suggest he's loving every minute of it: 18.5 ppg and 14.5 rpg in 2005-06 and 22.5 ppg on 55 percent shooting in 2006-07.

"He's a lot like Dirk."

Why? Because Darko's tall, white and has a passport?

Do you know how hard it was watching Wade shred our defense last spring en route to the championship and Sports Illustrated's Sportsman of the Year? Do you know what it's like to see Melo lead the league in scoring while our offensive numbers mirror the worst team in basketball? I'm not exaggerating. The Pistons and Celtics both average 96.6 ppg, hit the same number of 3s and are close in free throws made. And the C's actually get to the foul line more, another disturbing trend.

Hearing Bosh's name announced in Sunday's All-Star starting five is going to feel like chewing broken glass. But at least I've had some time to digest losing out on the better lottery picks. When commissioner David Stern selected Okur as an injury replacement for the All-Star roster earlier this week, that's what made me ready to end my life. Oh, he deserves it, but to quote the O'Jays: "She used to be my girl." We wouldn't have won the championship in 2004 without his size and 3-point shooting.

But we let him go because we had Darko.

Yeah, this might end up being a good season for us Pistons fans. But mark my words people, this will be a cruel summer. I love Sheed, but he slowed down two years ago. Chauncey might jump ship, and the bench is about as effective as the U.N.

The Curse of Darko is real. Run for your lives, or bear witness to the most rapid decline of a franchise since MJ hung it up the second time. Of course if you're a Bulls fan, you'd actually enjoy seeing that.

The only thing that could be worse is watching Darko improve, become a player who really does remind everyone of Dirk, and then be voted the starting center in the 2009 All-Star Game. Held in Detroit. Could happen. He's only 21.

And I'm not even going to bring up how Dumars passed on another of Sunday's All-Stars, Josh Howard, because "Carlos Delfino's a lot like Manu Ginoboli."

But I guess I just did.

LZ Granderson is a senior writer for ESPN The Magazine and host of the ESPN360 talk show "Game Night." LZ can be reached at l_granderson@yahoo.com.