Reading Time: 7 minutes

The typical image of an NBA player evokes visions of athleticism and skill, but exceptions like Nikola Jokic demonstrate that sporting talent can come in surprising packages. 

Jokić, despite not fitting the mold of a flashy ‘jumpman’, has proven that relentless development of fundamental skills and high IQ can lead to success in basketball. 

The 3-time MVP, nicknamed “The Joker,” has cemented his place as one of the best centers of all time and arguably the biggest draft steal in NBA history. This is his story.

Growing up in Serbia

Nikola Jokić was born in the northern part of Serbia, in the city of Sombor. He grew up in a cramped two-bedroom apartment with his two brothers, parents, and grandmother.

Jokić’s childhood was set against the backdrop of the wars tearing apart the former Yugoslavia. 

This hostile environment demanded a particular kind of resilience, a toughness that was fostered and encouraged by his protective brothers. Their determination to see him thrive shaped Jokić’s character and contributed to his ability to overcome adversity.

Nikola Jokic with his brothers

Nikola Jokić’s basketball journey began on a simple toy hoop hanging in his family’s home. His passion sparked early, fueled by countless hours spent playing with his two older brothers, Strahinja and Nemanja. 

Basketball held deep cultural significance in his Serbian homeland, with the Yugoslavian national team (of which Serbia was a part) having secured two world championships in the 1970s. 

Inspired by both his brothers and the rich basketball history of his country, Nikola Jokić embarked on his path with a ball and a dream.

Getting drafted during a Taco Bell commercial

His journey to NBA stardom took an unceremonious turn when he was drafted in the second round, 41st overall, by the Denver Nuggets in 2014. 

In a scene symbolizing his underdog story, he was even asleep when his brother notified him about the news. 

Overshadowed by more hyped prospects like Karl Antony Towns, Nikola Jokić’s selection wasn’t deemed worthy of live coverage, ironically occurring during a Taco Bell commercial break.

Pundits and experts expected him to be another “lazy European sharpshooter” who would end up on the trading block more often than on an NBA championship court.

Early years in Denver 

Jokić had a fairly decent season for a rookie, and by season’s end, he finished third in the 2016 NBA Rookie of the Year Award voting and earned NBA All-Rookie First Team honors.

 In his sophomore year, his game time increased, but not enough to become a regular starter. He recorded his first career triple-double with 20 points, 13 rebounds, and 11 assists in a 121–117 win over the Milwaukee Bucks. 

Jokic continued to produce output that matched the performances he put up against the Bucks and Knicks throughout his second season in the NBA. His six triple-doubles ranked fourth on the season behind Russell Westbrook (42), James Harden (22) and LeBron James (13). 

At the season’s end, he finished second in the 2017 NBA Most Improved Player Award voting. His reputation as an elite passer and scorer in the NBA continued to increase.

By the 2017-2018 Season, Jokić was already a franchise player. This decision paid off almost instantly when the Nuggets narrowly missed the playoffs (even after a 46-36 record). 

Becoming an All-Star

Nikola Jokic’s breakout season came in the 2018-2019 season, earning his All-Star and All-NBA appearances. 

On July 9, 2018, Jokić signed a five-year, $148 million max extension with the Nuggets. He also made his first playoff appearance, progressing to the second round before narrowly losing 100–96 to the Portland Trailblazers in Game 7.

Nikola Jokic All-Stars

The hard-fought series, as well as the Nugget’s improvement in performance and the playoffs, showed signs of promising success as the team and Jokić kept improving.

The following season was more of the same for the Serb, who set several triple-double records and was influential in the Nuggets’ success during the regular season. 

Their performance throughout the regular season secured the Nuggets’ slot in the subsequent playoff series. The following year, they reached the Western Conference Finals. 

However, the Nuggets would go on to lose the Western Conference Finals in five games to the eventual NBA champion Los Angeles Lakers.

Becoming the MVP

The 2020-2021 season was a very outstanding season for Jokić on an individual level, becoming just the third player in NBA history to finish a season ranked in the top five in total points (3rd), rebounds (5th), and assists (3rd), joining Elgin Baylor and Chamberlain (3x). 

For his regular season performance, Jokić won the MVP award, becoming the first center to win it since Shaquille O’Neal in 2000, as well as the first player in Denver Nuggets franchise history to become the MVP. 

Jokic wins MVP

He also became the first Serbian player, third European player overall, and sixth international player ever to win the award. 

Having been selected 41st overall in the 2014 NBA draft, Jokić became the lowest-drafted player in NBA history to be named MVP, as well as the first-ever player to be drafted in the second round of the common draft era (since 1966) to win the award. 

These feats, juxtaposed with the low expectations on draft day, make Nikola Jokic the greatest steal in the history of the NBA Draft. 

The following season was just as successful for Jokić on an individual level, securing another MVP award for his performance throughout the regular season, beating finalists Joel Embiid and Giannis Antetokounmpo

He became the 13th player to win the award in consecutive seasons, as well as the second European player to win the award more than once, joining Giannis Antetokounmpo.

That was when the chirping and naysaying started. Analysts and talking heads like Kendrick Perkins went as far as insinuating that Jokic won the MVP because the voters were racist.

Even after winning the award in 2024, Shaquille O’Neil openly told Jokic that he felt Shai Gilgeous-Alexander was a more deserving winner. Speechless.

Jokic’s playing style

Nikola Jokić’s unique playing style has sparked a lot of conversation within the NBA community. The dominance of “out-of-shape Europeans” over American “athletes” pointed to a shift towards game understanding in favor of overt athleticism.

Jokić is a master of this new paradigm. 

He is not the fastest and definitely not the most skilled player, even for centers, but he makes up for this with his decision-making and elite positioning. 

“He sees plays before they happen

LeBron James

With seemingly every play bound to go through Jokic and with his current skill set, this allows him to rack up numbers on the offensive end. 

Still, for those who really understand how demanding and physical the center position is, he is definitely one who amazes you with how he goes about his game while performing at a very high level.

Winning the NBA Title

On July 1, 2022, Jokić agreed to a five-year $264 million supermax contract extension with the Nuggets, making it the richest deal in NBA history at the time. 

He played as expected, backing up the mega deal with an impressive performance, which once again secured the Nuggets place in that year’s playoffs. 

Jokic led the Nuggets to a championship title success, with a series over the Minnesota Timberwolves, Phoenix Suns, and Los Angeles Lakers, and in the finals against the Miami Heat. 

Nikola Jokic and the Denver Nuggets win NBA championship

Jokić is an all-time great. He’s going to go down as one of the all-time great centers ever to touch a basketball

Kevin Durant

Jokić was unanimously voted as Finals MVP and became the lowest draft pick in NBA history to win this award. Jokić finished the NBA Finals averaging 30.2 points, 14 rebounds, 7.2 assists, and 1.4 blocks. 

He became the first player in NBA history to lead the entire postseason in total points (600), total rebounds (269) and total assists (186). 

The current 2023-2024 season has been a successful one for the Serb, with him being on course to bag his third MVP award. He has been doing what he does best, racking up triple-doubles while shutting up people like Kendrick Perkins. 

For me, one championship is enough to cement his place among the greats, but I’m sure he is going to win more.

Vlade Divac

He also joined LeBron James and Russell Westbrook, who were the only players in NBA history to put up a triple-double against every NBA team they faced. 

Nikola Jokic is A Gem Outside Basketball

Outside the court, Jokić has a laid-back personality, which endears him to fans. He goes about his life just like every other regular person. 

“Every teacher in elementary school loved me because I was always goofing around.”

It is no news at this point that after every season, he immediately jets off to his home country to spend time with his horses, something that seems to be funny to most people. 

Jokic with his horses

One would expect a popular figure and a sportsperson of his pedigree to indulge himself in a more flamboyant vacation, but he opts to spend much time with his family and his horses in his home country. 

“I enjoy animals. Their nature. They’re really good animals. Every different horse has a different personality, like a human.”

As uninteresting as he seems to be, both on and off the court, Jokić is a fun person to be around. With his recent acts during the just-concluded NBA All-Star weekend, it is evident that Jokić does have what it takes to make people around him laugh.

Ignore Carmelo Anthony. Nikola Jokic has made the No.15 jersey for the Denver Nuggets his. Once Jokic retires, his jersey will go up in the rafters.

As with everything in life, there is definitely uncertainty about a player’s future or choices as their career progresses. But whichever team or conference Jokic finds himself in, you can bet that he will make those around him better. 

For now, let’s sit back and enjoy the show that is the Joker’s career.

Who wrote this?

Ebuka is a tech enthusiast, writer, and eSports guru currently working with a team of daring Africans to revolutionize the writing scene. He enjoys answering questions, brainstorming new ideas, and discussing the future of sports and esports.

Ebuka Agbasi
Ebuka is a tech enthusiast, writer, and eSports guru currently working with a team of daring Africans to revolutionize the writing scene. He enjoys answering questions, brainstorming new ideas, and discussing the future of sports and esports.

    You may also like

    Leave a reply

    Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *