PLAYA VISTA, Calif. — The invitation from the Los Angeles Clippers was irresistible. Come have breakfast, they said, with Milos Teodosic.
Who would dare decline?
This was my chance, after all, to sit down with the Serbian mystery man who was widely regarded as the best basketball player on the planet not in the N.B.A. and find out what finally nudged him to jump to the world’s best league at the age of 30. It was also my ticket to see firsthand whether Teodosic, as his new Clippers teammate Sam Dekker claimed in a September tweet, really starts his day with cheeseburgers.
We regret to report, for starters, that Teodosic does not eat cheeseburgers for breakfast.
“Too heavy,” the 6-foot-5 guard said.
His go-to order from the Clippers’ in-house canteen is a protein-stuffed breakfast sandwich featuring eggs, cheese, bacon and occasionally “some grass” — Teodosic’s description for spinach. Disappointing as this may be for the Teodosic devotees out there who so badly wanted Dekker’s revelation to be true, we are furthermore forced to disclose that it’s actually a bit of a struggle to get him to ingest anything in the morning.
“I can’t eat right away when I wake up,” Teodosic said as he forced himself to bite into his custom meal while we chatted at the team’s practice facility. “I can eat 10 times in a day, but small, small, small.”
If that spoils some of the most savory Milos mythology in circulation, don’t worry: Copious amounts of YouTube footage of his audacious passing is only a click away. A quick internet search will likewise confirm that, for all the fears about how he’d cope with the length and athleticism he’s now seeing daily as the N.B.A.’s oldest rookie — especially given his well-chronicled defensive shortcomings — there is no shortage of Teodosic highlights in a Clippers jersey.
“He still has his razzle-dazzle going,” Dekker said.
Not long after the Clippers saw their All-Star point guard Chris Paul force his way to Houston last June, they signed Teodosic to a two-year deal worth $12.3 million. On a Basketball Without Borders junket in Israel on behalf of the league in August, Dekker found himself being regaled by Israeli reporters with tales about the uncommon vision and flair he was about to be exposed to.
“My immediate reaction,” Dekker said, “was that I better go look this guy up.”
It’s a true shame that N.B.A. assistant coaches overlooked Teodosic in the voting for the annual Rising Stars game featuring first- and second-year players that gets All-Star Weekend underway in earnest next Friday night. The All-Star festivities are in Los Angeles this season and Teodosic belongs in that game not only as a showman supreme who sports the bonus of local ties but because of his impact for the better-than-expected Clippers, who are 17-8 when he’s in uniform and 11-18 when he’s out. Heading into Monday night’s game in Brooklyn, L.A. is also a meaty plus-5.8 points per 100 possessions better this season when he is on the floor compared to when he sits.
Teodosic, though, doesn’t feel slighted in the least.
“Being in All-Star any way is something big and good,” he said. “But I’m 30 years old. Maybe some younger guys should go there and feel this feeling.”
When he was 26, Teodosic was courted hard in free agency by the Memphis Grizzlies. He came close to accepting their offer in the summer of 2013, only to decide he couldn’t bear to leave for the United States until he won a Euroleague title. He never expected that it would take another three years, but his European critics were finally hushed when Teodosic led CSKA Moscow to the second-most prestigious club basketball championship in the world in 2016.
The expiration of his second three-year CSKA contract after the 2016-17 season then set him up, at last, to make the leap to sample N.B.A. life and try to quiet the critics on both sides of the Atlantic who would have branded his résumé incomplete without a stint on U.S. shores.
Teodosic said it felt “weird” to be branded a rookie, after winning Euroleague Most Valuable Player honors as far back as 2010 and unexpectedly steering Serbia into the gold medal game against the mighty United States at both the 2014 FIBA World Cup and the 2016 Rio Olympics. “But I am happy they don’t treat me like a rookie,” Teodosic said of his fellow Clippers.
That means no fetching bagels or doughnuts to bring to practice. No transporting of the veterans’ luggage or singing on teammates’ birthdays with the other first-year players. He arrived with too much hoopla to be assigned rookie chores, especially when, as Dekker put it, Teodosic “knows the game better than most of us.”
“I will feel sorry if I didn’t come here,” Teodosic said, admitting that he, too, felt something was missing in his career without an N.B.A. adventure. “I want…