LeBron James was the toast of the NBA this summer, shaping the league by his second decision. Fellow draft classmates Carmelo Anthony, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh shaped the NBA in their image too with their free agent decisions the last five years. The league was changed forever by the 2003 Draft Class.
And then there was Darko Milicic.
The second overall pick of that vaunted draft class was out of the league and playing basketball in Europe within a decade. This was not the future the sweet-shooting lefty was supposed to have after he rose the charts to get picked Number 2 by the already successful Pistons (there was possibly no worse situation for him as a rookie than having to deal with Larry Brown).
So what does Milicic do at 29 years old and a whole future in front of him?
The man who did this:
is now a kickboxer.
Milicic is set to sign a contract to be a professional kickboxer Wednesday. He has a humongous reach at least with both his legs and his feet. But can he pull off actually being a kickboxer? That is a sport that takes a lot of agility and speed. That is not necessarily something Darko was known for on a basketball court.
It is an interesting career choice for the player once (and forever) known as “The Human Victory Cigar.”
That makes us wonder: Who would make the best fighters in the NBA?
The NBA fight is not a thing to be celebrated. The league comes down hard on these events. They are not to be celebrated. Still there is something to be admired about those that go into hand-to-hand, simple conduct.
Which NBA players do we see as potential fighters?
Tiago Splitter, Spurs
The photo above should tell you all you need to know. Tiago Splitter has Anderson Varejao shaking in his boots when the two Brazilians stepped into the octagon while training for the FIBA World Cup earlier this month.
Splitter is a strong dude but has a little bit of grace. And you need that to be a fighter.
OK, so maybe Splitter is not quite as graceful, but if Darko can do it, why not Tiago?
Yeah, I did not think so. Moving on . . .
Marcin Gortat, Wizards
OK, hear me out on this one.
Gortat’s father is actually a professional boxer from Poland. Gortat grew up around the “sweet science.” In the offseason, Gortat trains at a boxing gym in Winter Park, Florida, outside Orlando. He helped introduce the training to several former Magic players. Many players of that 2009 and 2010 Magic team that went to the conference finals trained with Gortat in the offseason — including Jameer Nelson, Ryan Anderson and Courtney Lee. A few still join Gortat at the gym.
How is Gortat as an actual boxer? That we will never know. Because, of course, none of them actually do any sparring.
Gortat has some nice footwork, at least on the pick and roll, and so I imagine he could hold his own in the ring. Then again, that is a pretty big target to go after with the lanky and tall Gortat.
Carmelo Anthony, Knicks
OK, here is some actual fight footage. Carmelo Anthony has been suspended before for fighting as he got into a tussle with some Knicks players while he was still with the Nuggets in 2006.
Well, Melo is not really involved in this one. Awesome takedown by Nate Robinson on J.R. Smith though (funny that they switched teams with Robinson now on the Nuggets and Smith on the Knicks). But Melo shows some good push and he definitely looks tough.
Like with everything, Anthony has that extreme versatility to be both a strong stand-up fighter and a good guy going to the ground. In a fight he has that versatility and he is willing to get physical and get angry. Anthony’s basketball game is a mix of power, speed and finesse. I imagine his fighting style is too.
Matt Barnes, Clippers
Doesn’t Matt Barnes just look like he wants to get into a fight?
For much of his career, Barnes has been something of an enforcer. With the Magic in 2010 he famously challenged Kobe Bryant, inspiring Bryant to push the Lakers to sign him the following year to bring his brand of toughness to the team.
Magic fans were always caught (and are still caught) wearing the famous “Matt Barnes will kill you” t-shirts. This is not a guy you want to meet in a dark alley.
Barnes though is a loyal guy to his teammates. He is definitely someone who will stick his neck out for his brothers and provide that edge to the team he is on.
Kendrick Perkins, Thunder
This is probably about all Perkins is good at anymore. Since tearing his ACL and leaving the Celtics, Perkins has not been the same player.
But Perkins still is pretty immovable on the block as a defender and is pretty tough. He is not going to be afraid to mix it up and good luck trying to break him physically. Perkins learned from the Kevin Garnett School of Hard Knocks how to intimidate and get under opponents’ skins.
Maybe he should spend less time on that and more time learning how to shoot a free throw.