With the NBA Finals underway, Nikola Jokić, the two-time MVP playing for the Denver Nuggets, is at the center of attention.
On Thursday, Jokić led his team to a decisive Game 1 victory against the Miami Heat.
And the 28-year-old, 7-foot Serbian basketball star is certainly making waves with fans back in his hometown of Sombor, Serbia.
“Nikola's success [means] so much to Serbia fans because Serbia is [a] country of basketball and especially Sombor, people talking on every corner about finals today,” said Srdjan Vlaskalic, a Sombor resident.
Last night, Vlaskalic said he was at a watch party with over 100 people, where the game started at 2:30 in the morning. He anticipates this level of enthusiasm at every game in the series.
Another fan, Miroslav Ćuk, was also watching the game from his home in Pancevo, a town just east of Belgrade. The electrical engineer is also a diehard Denver Nuggets fan.
For three years now, he’s hosted podcasts about the Nuggets in both Serbian and English, and he talks a lot about what makes Jokić stand out.
“We kid, in our Denver Nuggets circles, that [Nikola Jokić] has a supercomputer inside of his head, and is just so quick you think it’s not even computing at all, it’s just perfection in an unathletic body,” Ćuk said.
Many commentators have said that Jokić doesn’t necessarily look like a superathlete but that his decision-making and passing ability is pure genius.
Yet, Jokić has never been a typical player.
His official introduction to the league came during the 2014 NBA draft. However, when he was selected by the Denver Nuggets, the ESPN broadcast cut to a Taco Bell ad. And he wasn’t chosen until well into the second round, where players rarely go on to become big stars.
Jokić is now one of the highest-paid players in the NBA, but he doesn’t seem to relish speaking with the press and he is definitely not on Twitter. He enjoys his privacy and has also said that he thinks social media is a waste of time.
In the offseason, Jokic tends to a stable of racehorses in Serbia and he said that’s the only reason why he would get online.
“My goal is to [not] use my phone when I finish my career so I can go without most of them, I just need YouTube to watch horse racing and that’s basically it,” he said.
Jokić fans are now hoping for him to become an NBA champion.
Ćuk said that Jokić is a prime example of how the game is taught in Serbia, which was formerly part of Yugoslavia.
“When we speak about the Yugoslav school of basketball, when you have young boys and girls that start to learn basketball, you don’t put them into separate groups, like these will be the guards, these will be the forwards, these will be the centers. No, everyone needs to learn everything,” he said.
Everyone needs to learn how to dribble, pass, shoot and defend — and that’s what Jokić does. Some say he is the best player in the world right now — but an NBA championship would be a first.
“This would be actually the first championship where the guy from Serbia is the main guy. Right now, Dirk Nowitzki is the greatest basketball player of all time from Europe, and if Nikola wins it, it will be the change on the throne, that’s a really really big thing to be excited about,” Ćuk said.
Jokić was the leading scorer in Game 1 of the Finals, with 27 points.
After winning Game 1, the Denver Nuggets are now three wins away from their first title in franchise history.
And Jokić fans are on call to celebrate.
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