“Nikola Jokic was not destined to play for Barça”. That was how forceful it was a few years ago Misko Raznatovic, player’s agent, in the documentary ‘Magic from our neighborhood’, broadcast on Serbian television a few years ago. The Serbian player, brand new NBA MVP 2020-2021, was on the radar of Barça, Madrid and two other Spanish clubs when he was not yet 20 years old and He was a member of the Mega Vizura in Belgrade, which at that time played its matches in a small town 40 kilometers from the Serbian capital, Sremska Mitrovica.
In 2014, representatives of the white team and the Barça team visited the bustling pavilion of the Mega
to see a talented 2.11 center with great vision of the game and ability to score from the outside.
Alberto Herreros, representative of Madrid, could see the best version of the young Jokic (17 points, 12 rebounds and 8 assists with a 40 PIR) from row zero of a runway to overflow. Joan Creus, who days before had done the same as a representative of Barça, did not live the same experience as his white counterpart.
“They followed him for a long time, they came for the final negotiations and watched a match at Sremska Mitrovica ”, explains Raznatovic about Barça’s interest. “Before the match, we had almost agreed on the conditions of the transfer and we were going to close it after the match. That night, however, Nikola played his worst game with the Mega. Not only did he miss everything he threw, but it didn’t bounce well … The impression it left was quite bad “.
The Barça club He did not rule out the player but he did decide to wait a little longer to finalize the signing of Serbian talent. In that period of indecision, another former Blue crossed his old team’s path. Arturas Karnisovas, then assistant to the General Manager of the Denver nuggets, led the strong bet of the franchise for that Serbian teenager not very athletic, not at all explosive and somewhat overweight. In the 2014 Draft, Jokic was drafted practically on the sly in the second round, with the 41st pick.
On American television they passed an ad for a popular fast food chain, a joke on a platter for the many trolls who spent countless hours on Twitter mocking the size and weight of the Serbian center upon his arrival in the United States. That example of cyber bullying
it did not daunt the competitive spirit, much less the talent of the now NBA Most Valuable Player, an award has been dominated by European talents for the past three seasons – Antetokounmpo won the past two editions, and Doncic continues to rise strongly going forward.
After his quick start in Serbia with the team of Raznatovic, one of the most powerful talent agents on the continent, Jokic started his NBA journey from the bench. In his first year, the player began to show flashes of his incredible passing ability and soon emerged in the starting quintet of the team, which last year touched the summit when reaching the Conference Finals against the champions Los Angeles Lakers.
Jokic made the leap to stardom at the age of 23 after two years of full-throttle progression in Denver. In the 2018-2019 season, the player averaged numbers tending to triple-double that he has repeated every course since then. His MVP season has ended with a complete mastery of all facets of the game for his team: 26.4 points, 10.8 rebounds, 8.3 assists and 1.3 steals per game with percentages of 56.6% correct shooting from the field and 38.8% in triples.
The joker, how the player is nicknamed, is the epitome of the modern center in the NBA, and the first five to win the award since Shaquille O’Neal did it in 2000. The transformation of the interiors in the two decades that have passed could not have been more radical. Jokic has won in the voting for the award to Joel embiid, an exponent of the somewhat more classic inner game, already Stephen Curry, the player who has redefined NBA basketball with his long-range shots.
Jokic was born in 1995 in a small town near the border with Hungary and Croatia, Sombor. As a child, I was horse lover and then became fond of basketball watching videos of Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant, who would later challenge him personally to pursue the MVP. His story makes for a good book, with anecdotes like his winter training with broken heater or the greeting that has replaced the “good morning” in his hometown: “How many points have you scored today?”
Among Jokic’s most curious hobbies is his passion for pokemon, series of which marathons of up to five hours have been hit during some NBA preseason. His talent for ball games is already legendary among the members of the Colorado team: “What he plays best is volleyball … to all sports with the ball actually, it’s amazing, ”explained Ognjen Stojakovic, director of player development for the Nuggets and his compatriot at the ‘The New York Times’, in an article that highlighted the connection between Jokic’s game and tradition for water polo in Serbia.
The coronavirus pandemic caused a radical change in Jokic’s physique, which lost 20 kilos during the competition break and he came back lighter than ever, which explains, in part, his tremendous performance this season. The rest is pure talent, work and development as the leader of some Nuggets that are the only team that participated in the Conference Finals last year that are still alive in the competition.
“He is completely altruistic, one of the most underrated stars of recent times that I can remember”, his coach valued Michael Malone after the announcement of the award. The coach, who has experienced the outbreak of the Serbian in the NBA, appeared before the media with a forceful shirt against the critics of his, already with all the law, NBA superstar: “MVP, and the joke’s on you”*
* “MVP, and the shot backfired” … although in English the hint rhymes better with the player’s nickname