“I’d rather win it with Nuggets” – The Denver Post
Nikola Jokic was already an anomaly among the NBA’s elite.
His preternatural feel made him a 7-foot visionary, while his self-effacing humor made him a beloved NBA personality. Ask Giannis Antetokounmpo at the All-Star Game. It’s tough not to fall for a guy who’d rather celebrate someone else’s accomplishments than his own.
On Friday night alone, following the Nuggets’ 103-102 win over Memphis, he promptly “surprised” himself when he failed to finish a jackhammer dunk in the first half.
“That’s the first time in my life I was surprised I missed the dunk,” he said.
Then, less than a week after mingling with the NBA’s best players at the All-Star game, he sheepishly disclosed he hadn’t taken full advantage of his time off.
“Actually, I’m sad I didn’t eat bad like how I wanted to eat bad,” he said.
Players with Jokic’s talent, coupled with his humility, don’t come along very often. Think Tim Duncan, whose San Antonio clips Jokic watched before transitioning to the NBA. Or Dirk Nowitzki, whose legacy was carved out playing solely for the Dallas Mavericks.
After twisting his ankle, insisting on a return and hitting a few more clutch shots en route to a 28-point, 15-rebound effort against Memphis, Jokic shared a new, heart-racing wrinkle in pursuit of a championship. He wants to do it in Denver, super-teams be damned.
“If I win it with Nuggets, or if we win it with Nuggets, that’s gonna be, we’re gonna want it more than if I go or if someone else joins us,” said Jokic, well aware of the weight of his words.
“That’s even better, maybe someone joins us,” he quipped before getting serious. “My personal opinion is I’d rather win it with Nuggets than … win it with any another team.”
Amid a season of inconsistency, from an availability standpoint to a defensive standpoint, Jokic’s declaration should’ve been taken as ringing endorsements of the foundation Josh Kroenke, Tim Connelly and Michael Malone have built in Denver. Their alignment, coupled with their luck, has opened a realistic championship window that would be the envy of almost every team in the NBA.
The perfect ending to Jokic’s fairytale story in Denver? A title.
The reason the entire organization has relished his rise is because of the relationships, not the rings, that mean everything to him.
It’s why he was willing to speak to The Denver Post recently about the role head strength coach Felipe Eichenberger has played in his development. It’s why he credits assistant coach Ognjen Stojakovic, a fellow Serbian, with easing his transition to the NBA in 2015 and stills jokes with him before shooting drills ahead of every single game.
The trust and comfort Jokic has within Denver’s organization is undeniable. While other NBA stars might covet a bigger market, with more endorsement opportunities, or more national TV games, Jokic is content in Denver. Those things don’t interest the Nuggets’ once-in-a-lifetime superstar.
The wandering eyes generally associated with NBA players don’t apply to the 26-year-old franchise foundation. If Duncan and Nowitzki were his predecessors, maybe guys like Damian Lillard, Bradley Beal and Antetokounmpo are his contemporaries.
Talk to people within the Nuggets’ organization and they go to great lengths not to take Jokic, who has two more years left on his contract, for granted. His easy-going demeanor, the uncanny talent, the humor, the work ethic, Nuggets officials are well-aware of the lottery they won when they chose him with the 41st pick in the draft in 2014.
And now, in the most public declaration Jokic has ever made, they know he’s on board with the direction the Nuggets are heading.