Nikola Jokić and the merry-go-round
The world’s best player has a lesson for us all
BY DAVID THORPE
We’ve never seen anyone like Nikola Jokić.
NBA history has given us Magic, Bird, Jordan, LeBron, Steph, and Giannis. All of these players were/are unique, but you can find comps in NBA history. Steph is a revolutionary shooter, but still a shooter. Bird and Magic had incredible abilities in tall bodies. Jordan, LeBron, and Giannis—though all different sizes—were/are killer competitors at the apex of the athletic food chain. Jokić is just different. Everyone wants to go back to that oft-posted picture of him as a kid, but you don’t have to go that far back to recognize how truly singular he is.
Jokić was drafted 41st overall for a reason, but it wasn’t because he was from Serbia. The league was routinely drafting European players in the lottery, and many had enjoyed real successes in the NBA. Jokić went 41st because he was being compared to the world’s best athletes, and clearly almost no one expected such a tall, heavy, lumbering player to become anything more than a garbage truck amidst the race cars.
But Jokić is a Mack truck, and he’s been cruising toward this destination since 2018-2019, when he was named first team All-NBA. He’s made at least All-NBA second team every year since, winning back-to-back MVPs—and now a Finals MVP. And yet, even those accolades can’t capture his uniqueness.
In all of NBA history, a player has had 30 points, 20 rebounds, and 10 assists in a playoff game just five times. Jokić logged three of those performances—the other two were Kareem and Wilt—and, for the first time ever, one came in the NBA Finals. He led the entire postseason in total points, rebounds, and assists. That’s never happened before, either: not Magic, not Bird, not Jordan, not LeBron, not Steph, not Giannis … never. In the series-clinching Game 5, he was 12-for-16, and two of his misses were from 3. On a night where everyone not named Jokić went 59-for-164 from the field, he just kept trucking.
There are more records, an entire list. That’s not what makes Jokić different. We’re used to seeing bouncy, muscle-bound athletes grab center stage in the Finals. Of course, Curry also broke the mold: diminutive, infectious, brave. Steph is known for his incredible work ethic. There are scores of YouTube videos showing his relentless routines to refine his skills. He’s so famous for it that his trainer is famous for it. The same was said for Jordan and his guy.
Now go find a similar video on Jokić. I’ll wait …
He’s absolutely shattered the mold of the NBA superstar.
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