Nikola Jokic (15) of the Denver Nuggets is interviewed during Denver Nuggets media day on Monday, September 30, 2019.
While the Nuggets dare to evoke the center Nikola Jokic in the same breath as Stephen Curry and Kawhi Leonard as the favorite for league MVP, the most unlikely superstar in Denver sports history prefers to talk about beer, but only if we’re drinking more than one.
“At the start of the year, I don’t know how you can even have an MVP discussion without mentioning (Jokic’s) name,” Nuggets coach Michael Malone said Monday on the eve of camp training designed to make his players believe that they have the best. a great chance to win the next NBA title as a Lakers, Rockets or Bucks.
Well, you can count Joker as a co-signer to those lofty championship aspirations. But the projector? Although he is 7 feet tall, the Nuggets center prefers to dodge him.
“I wish you wouldn’t ask me questions,” Jokic said, circling a finger at a horde of reporters who engulfed him at the team’s media day.
Instead of beating his chest and inserting himself into the MVP conversation, Jokic would rather teach me how to order an ice cold can of Zajecarsko pivo in his native language.
A little over a week ago, on my way home from a loss to the Broncos, I stopped for lunch at a Serbian restaurant not far from Midway Airport. When the waitress delivered her a plate filled with a pile of meat, including Cevapi still sizzling on the grill, she suggested a beer to go with it.
“Were you drunk?” Jokic asked me.
“No,” I replied, “I didn’t get drunk.”
“You’re not Serbian,” Jokic said, teasing me for being a lightweight.
While the rest of the NBA discovered just how dominant Joker can be in the 2018 playoffs, averaging 25.1 points, 13.0 rebounds and 8.4 assists, his teammate Will Barton gave him a much more appropriate nickname: Big Honey. It perfectly describes a center with fluid movements, a 24-year-old star with a gentle character and a slightly slimy body.
The next big challenge for Big Honey will therefore be how Jokic will handle the spotlight that will be on him night after night, throughout the season. Will he let the heat take over?
At the FIBA World Cup last month, after being cornered and raked in the arms by Spanish defenders Juancho Hernángomez and Marc Gasol, the star of the Serbian national team, protested so vehemently against a jump ball that Jokic was sent off from a match that Spain went on to win easily.
“He’s so angry because he turned the ball over or committed an offensive foul, I don’t remember,” said Hernangomez, who not only plays alongside Jokic with the Nuggets but is probably his best friend in the NBA.
“And (Jokic) goes to the referee, like he did several times (with Denver) last year. So he got mad at the referee, and I tried to stop him at first. I say, “Joker, Joker, no, no, no!” And then I realized we were on different teams, and I said, “Okay, Joker, go ahead. »
Jokic left, getting angry.
“He got kicked out,” Hernangomez recalled with a laugh, “and I said, ‘OK, Joker.’ Bye.'”
Much to the disappointment of Serbian fans, Jokic and his teammates were also eliminated from the World Cup early, while Spain won it all.
I asked Jokic if he wanted to see the gold medal won by Hernangomez, who averaged 10.5 points and 5.4 rebounds in the tournament.
“No,” Jokic insisted. “It is his.”
But Hernangomez said his great friend graciously made a congratulatory phone call within 24 hours of Spain’s victory over Argentina in the championship match.
“No, I didn’t. He’s lying,” Jokic said, with humor so dry it can make anyone smile.
It’s Big Honey. But buried deep within her soft body and sweet personality is a competitive edge as sharp as a stiletto.
“I want to win a championship,” Jokic said.
He’s a Joker. But as the NBA learns quickly, it’s a big mistake to underestimate him.
This is Broncos country, but Jokic will own it.