The Serbian international pivot from Denver was crowned best player of the regular season by a short head ahead of the Cameroonian post 5 Joel Embiid.
How do you say “back to backin Serbian? “Drugi put zaredom!“. Nikola Jokic, the embodiment of the dominance of foreign basketball players in the NBA and the era of ultra-versatile giants, became the 13th player in history to be named regular season MVP for the second season in a row.
The 27-year-old Denver Nuggets center is now part of the same club as Bill Russell, Wilt Chamberlain, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Moses Malone, Larry Bird, Magic Johnson, Michael Jordan, Tim Duncan, Steve Nash, LeBron James, Stephen Curry and Giannis Antetokounmpo. All legends, with the exception of Nash and himself, were also champions. “Just being around Bill (Russell) and all the guys that have made history in this league and in this sport…I mean, just that, that says a lot. It means a lot“, reacted, in the program NBA on TNT, the “Joker” who recorded averages of 27.1 points at 58.3% success, 13.8 rebounds and 7.9 assists this season, improving his statistics in almost every sector compared to the previous year.
Beyond the numbers, he is rewarded for his considerable impact on the performance of the Nuggets, yet weakened by the absences of Jamal Murray and Michael Porter Jr, long-time injured, and whom he led to 6th place in the West, certainly without then being able to prevent an elimination in the 1st round of the play-offs against Golden State.
“Nikola deserved it”, admits Embiid
Acclaimed by 65 journalists out of 100 in first place, he, like last year, outstripped the Cameroonian pivot of Philadelphia Joel Embiid. Third place went to the Greek Giannis Antetokounmpo, double winner in 2019 and 2020. Two doubles are therefore linked to the winners of this individual award, consecrating for the 4th consecutive year a non-American player. Behind this trio, the Slovenian prodigy Luka Doncic, destined to know such a consecration one day, occupies 5th place at only 23 years old.
Embiid, who many saw as the second African-born player to receive the Maurice Podoloff Trophy after Hakeem Olajuwon, the Nigerian who naturalized as an American in 1993 and was named MVP the following year, did not fail to congratulate Jokic, despite the disappointment. “It’s the second year in a row that I put myself in this position, at this point it’s almost: “it doesn’t matter”. What happens, happens. Nikola deserved it. He had an incredible season. There is no right or wrong choice. There were a lot of candidates, it could have gone another way“, he said.
The new consecration of Jokic extends the hegemony of these ultra-dominant and versatile giants. Which would also have been the case if Embiid or Antetokounmpo had been named MVP at his expense. The Serb, who excels in everything on the court, scoring, passing, creating, rebounding, countering, defending… is “the reincarnation of larry bird“, in the eyes of one of his admirers and sacred connoisseur, Gregg Popovich, the coach of San Antonio.
The points in common are not lacking, in fact, with the former idol of the Celtics, precursor of modern basketball. Until that unstoppable way of kicking the ball over his head with diabolical precision, and in appearance, with that nose that invariably blushes in the effort under the pale complexion.
The physique of this fellow (2.11 m, 128 kg), born in Sombor in northern Serbia, has long been mocked for his overweight. Especially since the young Nikola could drink up to three liters of a famous soda a day. “To be honest, I didn’t even think about being in the NBA when I started playing basketball at home.“, he confided last year when receiving his first trophy.
Drafted in 41st position in 2014 by Denver, Jokic has become a superstar as discreet as it is essential for the Nuggets. He is currently negotiating a contract extension with the Colorado franchise and could sign, according to US media, for more than $240 million over five years. Which would be an NBA record. “Everybody knows I’m the same guy so hopefully I’ll stay the same after this“, he said Wednesday, with a modesty that is matched only by his talent.