Basketball: Nikola Jokic, the NBA anti-star
Figurehead of the Denver Nuggets, favorites for the NBA title, Serbian pivot Nikola Jokic will be the player to watch during the finals against the Miami Heat. Double MVP, in 2021 and 2022, the number 15 has an atypical profile, on and off the floor, far from the usual standards of a league that attracts the spotlight and where stars are much more than athletes.
Nikola Jokic, pivot in the Denver Nuggets franchise. Getty Images via AFP - MATTHEW STOCKMAN
Text by: Michaël Oliveira Da Costa Follow
From our correspondent in New York,
Staples Center in Los Angeles, May 22. After being swept four wins to zero by a "blizzard" from the Rocky Mountains, LeBron James clarifies things in a press conference after a reporter's question about Nikola Jokic's stratospheric performances during this series (30 points, 12 rebounds and 12.5 assists per game).
I think a lot of people don't understand that what he's doing is just huge. Beyond the statistics, it is monstrous, it impacts the game like very few players, we do not talk about it enough. He's not flashy, but he's a very special player," said LeBron James.
The observation made by the "King" is clear, and shared by several experts and players across the league. But for those who frequent the Serbian pivot, the lack of exposure of the player is not to displease him, quite the contrary. "He likes his tranquility, he is not attracted by the lights, by the media attention, by the bling bling side of the NBA. It's not his thing, and he's happy like that," said Boniface Ndong, the former Senegalese pivot turned assistant coach with the Nuggets, who works with him. Jokic is a discreet, simple giant, who lives his dream of NBA player without rhinestones or glitter.
Joel Embiid wrestling with Nikola Jokic. USA TODAY Sports - Bill Streicher
An adventure that begins in Colorado in 2014
Born in Sombor, a medium-sized town in Serbia, Jokic grew up in a family in a precarious situation, but which was affected by the orange ball virus. His two brothers, Nemanja and Strahinja, introduced him to the sport. His love for basketball is not immediate for him, who prefers horses, and good food. He became obese, and his large height (1.92 m at 14 years old), pushed him to give himself a chance in the sport that saw the national idols Vlade Divac and Dejan Bodiroga shine.
He caught the eye of recruiters, and after a stint in Vojvodina, he was recruited by Mega Vizura, the best academy in the country. He began his professional career at the age of 17, and was drafted two years later by the Denver Nuggets, who selected him in the second round, 41st overall. The American adventure of the "Joker" began in Colorado in 2014.
He quickly got his bearings in the team, and the player's development plan went according to plan. Ndong said. He adds: "Jokic has slipped through the cracks of many scouts, good for us." He finished third in the race for Rookie of the Year in his first campaign across the Atlantic, then rose to prominence. He went on to make selections in the top five majors of the season, and reached the individual grail with his first MVP title in 2021. His profile a little clumsy does not always please, he does not make waves, but the Serb makes an "encore repetita" the following year. The Jokic phenomenon does not stop anymore.
Denver Nuggets Serbian center Nikola Jokic during a photo op in Denver on September 24, 2018 GETTY IMAGES NORTH AMERICA/AFP/Archives
A monster of work
Despite all the individual recognition, Nikola Jokic is far from being among the most appreciated stars of a league that advocates the spectacle with dunks from LeBron James, blocks from Giannis Antetokounmpo, and bulging muscles like those of Joel Embiid.
The Serb does not have the biggest trigger, prefers three-point shots and puts the ball in the circle instead of slamming a big dunk. He seems unathletic, a little potted, and his smile combined with his almost shaved head gives him the image of a gentle giant. "A lot of people are wrong about him, he's a monster of work. As for his physique, I can tell you that a guy who weighs 130 kilos and runs 40 minutes per game is that he has an extraordinary physical ability, "says Ndong, who adds "his strength is his basketball IQ. Exceptional intelligence, he knows what to do and when to do it. He has very little waste in his game, that's the mark of the very great."
An outstanding competitor, the Serb wants to bring a first title to the "Mile High City" franchise, and thus mark the history of a team that has been growing in power for several years, and which achieves the second best record of the regular season (53 wins for 29 losses). "The city deserves it, the fans deserve it and all my teammates and I are motivated like never before," Jokic told a press conference.
Going home to take care of his horses
Always very interesting with the press and close to the fans, Jokic also has everything of an anti-star, very protective of his privacy, and has no profile on social networks. The life of the Serb is very simple. "He makes his team win, gets out of crazy statistical lines and goes home, like everyone else," says Ndong, "he doesn't make the covers of magazines, he's very close to his family and he's a simple guy."
Nikola Jokic is a discreet hero, far from Serbia's other great sports idol, Novak Djokovic. He does not go out to nightclubs, does not commit deviations, does not take a political position. He likes to fish, enjoys barbecues with friends and takes care of his horses in his stud farm in Sombor, his little paradise.
He is determined to win this NBA championship, then he will return home this summer to reunite with his family and live his hobbies with ease, far from the spotlight, as he loves. ", concludes the Senegalese assistant.
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