65445

Keeler: While Joel Embiid and Steph Curry campaigned, Nikola Jokic let his play do the talking when it came to NBA’s MVP award

downing-street-uk

Joel Embiid politicked. Steph Curry lobbied. Nikola Jokic shrugged.

“I didn’t come here to want to be MVP of the league,” the Nuggets center told ESPN’s Rachel Nichols in an interview posted online April 30. “I always think someone is better than me. I want to compete to beat him. Just by that mentality, I’m going to be underdog, always.”

The next night, the Joker put up 30 points and 14 rebounds on the Clippers in Los Angeles.

After that game, the media tried again. State your case, Joker. Floor’s yours.

“I never play basketball to win individual awards,” Jokic told reporters May 1. “(The) MVP is just something that the people and media are trying to make a story out of it. I don’t play for that.”

Two nights later, the Joker dropped 32 points and nine boards on the Lakers.

The best player on the planet let his play do the talking, start to finish. In a league where words carry so much weight, the 2021 NBA MVP set the bar with actions.

Especially the actions we didn’t see. The workouts with Felipe Eichenberger, the Nuggets’ head strength-and-conditioning coach. The sweat. The toil. The leaner, meaner Joker.

The one who shed 25 pounds, minimum. The one who beat guys with twice his street cred up and down the floor. The one who racked up 45 dunks during the regular season, according to Basketball-Reference.com, 11 more than his total slams over the three previous years combined. The one who turned the “bad body” jabs from the talking heads into fake news, night after night.

The talent was always there. It was putting in the work that pushed Jokic’s game from great to elite, that shifted his recognition from cult to universal.

The Joker had always been a national curiosity, a funny big guy with a cute nickname who did little-guy things well, like running the offense. He’d racked up viral moments for years, Hail Marys, circus stuff. It was a question of getting the perception, and appreciation for his all-around skills, to catch up with the novelty factor. And for the Nuggets to rise, and win, right along with him.

This was for those epic Game 7s in the bubble last summer. It was for a standard of effort and excellence that rarely wavered, even as COVID-19 and injuries decimated the roster around him.

“I’d rather win a championship than win an MVP,” Jokic said Thursday. “Maybe that’s my motivation.”

was 34-20 (.629) when Jamal Murray tore an anterior cruciate ligament. They’ve gone 17-8 (.680) since. In sickness and in health, Jokic was the constant, the engine and the rock.

“They lose Jamal Murray, and they haven’t really skipped a beat,” Nets coach Steve Nash, a scrappy, international MVP himself, said of Jokic last month. “That shows how good he is.”

This was about effort. Ability. Metrics. Sheer guts. It sounds counter-intuitive to say a 6-foot-11 guy just shattered a glass ceiling, but you have to consider the floor. A second-round draft pick had never won this award before. The Nuggets play in a flyover NBA town in the Mountain time zone, with most of their games broadcast on a regional sports channel that’s blacked out for a large portion their own fan base.

Jokic rose above it all. A second-round pick from Serbia is the MVP of the NBA. It doesn’t matter where you were drafted or where you’re from or where you shine. If you’re good enough to elevate those around you, the way Magic and Bird and Jordan and Kobe and LeBron and Giannis did before him, if you keep plugging, the rewards will come.

“When your best player, who’s now an MVP, is your hardest worker,” said coach Michael Malone, who greeted reporters wearing a black T-shirt adorned with all the hackneyed Joker criticisms over the years, “that sets an example for everyone else.”

The crazy part? He’s 26. For all the miles put in over the last six years, there’s still so much tread left on Joker’s tires — the kind of clever, smart unselfish game that could shine, at this level, for another decade.

“The greatest thing I can say about Nikola,” Malone continued, “is that he fully represents the culture that we’ve created here in Denver.”

They knew. At Christmas, they knew. Teammate Will Barton was on the train early, Jiminy Cricket on Joker’s shoulder, daring the Big Honey to go out and play like an MVP every night.

“I never think about that,” Jokic said five months ago, when it was all just a dream. “I’m just thinking about the next game. I think that’s what the mentality needs to be … When you think in the future, I think you put a lot of pressure on yourself.”

The future is now. The last word was the sweetest. And that smile from underneath the mask on Thursday, when NBA Commissioner Adam Silver delivered the news, said it all.

The floor is yours, Joker. The world, too.

dp news breaking?d=yIl2AUoC8zA - Keeler: While Joel Embiid and Steph Curry campaigned, Nikola Jokic let his play do the talking when it came to NBA’s MVP award dp news breaking?d=dnMXMwOfBR0 - Keeler: While Joel Embiid and Steph Curry campaigned, Nikola Jokic let his play do the talking when it came to NBA’s MVP award dp news breaking?d=7Q72WNTAKBA - Keeler: While Joel Embiid and Steph Curry campaigned, Nikola Jokic let his play do the talking when it came to NBA’s MVP award dp news breaking?i=lv99wZ0c2NM:A2vRhb87l84:V sGLiPBpWU - Keeler: While Joel Embiid and Steph Curry campaigned, Nikola Jokic let his play do the talking when it came to NBA’s MVP award dp news breaking?d=qj6IDK7rITs - Keeler: While Joel Embiid and Steph Curry campaigned, Nikola Jokic let his play do the talking when it came to NBA’s MVP award

lv99wZ0c2NM - Keeler: While Joel Embiid and Steph Curry campaigned, Nikola Jokic let his play do the talking when it came to NBA’s MVP award

Latest Post