The atypical Serbian center led the Denver Nuggets to their first ever Finals. To the sound of records and with an unmistakable ataraxia on the parquet: today everyone applauds him, even those who misunderstood him
Look Nikola Jokic in the center of the Lakers home and looks like an old family photo. First communion (or first NBA Finals): the relatives cheer in a circle, the table set with glittering trinkets, he in the middle. The birthday boy. And like an embarrassed big kid, Nikola claps yes. But without really knowing why. “What does this award mean to me? Nothing,” says the fresh MVP of Western Conference Finals. “They should assign it to my teammates and to the coaches who put me in the best conditions”. There is no arrogance or deceit. It matters little that the Serbian center has just brought i Denver Nuggets to play for the ring for the first time in their history. It matters little that he did it thanks to an unprecedented roadmap: 8 triple doubles in 15 playoff games, always with at least 20 points on the scoresheet. Wilt Chamberlain's legendary record (7) had held since 1967. It took the phlegm of the champion to break it.
It's not a contradiction. Jokic liquidated the Booker-Durant ticket and brought King LeBron to his knees without ever losing his composure. And a basketball efficiency all of his own: there had never been a player capable of winning a playoff series - West semifinal against Phoenix - with 34.5 points, 13.2 rebounds and 10.3 assists per game; there had never been one capable of recording a triple-double - Game 1 against the Lakers - from 30-20-10 on 70 percent shooting. A concentrate of quality and quantity “that changes the logic of this sport”, even Magic Johnson crowns him.
At 28, Nikola finally gets everyone to agree. It happened just when the best basketball player in the regular season, jury in hand, has become Joel Embiid: for the Serbian it would have been the third time in a row. But they don't give a damn, right? Neither the plates nor the labels. Above all, the proverbial indolence on the parquet: swept away by the numbers. Imperturbability is quite another thing. He marries an anomalous talent. And with a typical nickname, but dictated by chance: "Joker". Mike Miller, his teammate between 2015 and 2017, tells us that that Slavic surname was difficult for Americans to pronounce. So he adapted it by assonance. And it was an instant success.
Jokic, a joker without mood swings, has little to do with the Batman villain. But he connects well to the joker of the cards: he makes the others win. Regardless of the corners of the field. Under the basket and as a point guard, as a power spiker to a fine scorer from beyond the arc. Denver has picked the right one, has cultivated it over time and now holds onto it – complete with a pharaonic contract, another NBA record, worth 270 million dollars a season. And Nikola goes on his way, careful to carve out a locus amoenus out of basketball: horses, travel, good food and no social media, "because they're a waste of time". Team and player are now only left with the last act, the first assault. Jokic got there with a smile. And a little Boskov sagacity. “When you scored that impossible triple at the end of the third quarter”, they ask him after the 1-0 win over the Lakers, “why did you and Davis, who was marking you, look at each other amused?”. Answer: “Because I had ass”. That the same shot took the Nuggets to the Finals three games later is pure class. But this Jokic does not say.