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Just as genuine beauty never has to try hard and real money doesn’t feel compelled to flash, Nuggets center Nikola Jokic really could not care less if he scores 50 points in an NBA game, no matter how much his Denver teammates beg him to just do it.
In the happy, waning moments of a huge showdown victory against Utah on Sunday, Nuggets forward Will Barton told Jokic: “Go get 50.”
But Joker stubbornly refused to listen.
“You know him, he doesn’t care about that stuff,” said Barton, after Jokic nonchalantly sat down on a dazzling 47-point performance with 99 seconds remaining in the Nuggets’ 128-117 thrashing of the Jazz, their new archrival.
Winners of 11 sraight, Utah was the league’s hottest team before the most unassuming MVP candidate you will ever meet took apart Utah with his bag of tricks, which featured slow-motion spin-o-ramas, floaters in the lane and daggers from three-point range.
But know what’s really freaky? This Joker can shock and amaze the world’s best athletes while earthbound with the exact same vertical leap as the refrigerator in your kitchen.
“You don’t have to be a guy who dunks on somebody to be a superstar,” Nuggets coach Michael Malone said.
But score 50? Fuhgetaboutit. If Denver has already salted away a victory, Jokic figures: What’s the point?
“It’s just a game. The main thing is just win the game. I’m going to score however much I need just to win the game,” he said.
Joker refuses to pad his stats, toot his own horn or talk trash at a reeling foe.
Why, pray tell?
“Bad karma,” Jokic insisted.
Being humble to a fault doesn’t stop him from fearlessly dribbling circles around Utah center Rudy Gobert, arguably the best defensive player now working, and finish the drive off by sweetly kissing a reverse layup off the glass.
But mess with the basketball gods’ good graces with anything remotely resembling a display of arrogance? That is simply not in Big Honey’s gentle nature.
Although every aspect of Jokic’s game would be magic, whether played under the bright lights of the NBA playoffs or alone on a dirt court somewhere in the deep woods of his native Serbia, this victory against the Jazz was a reminder of why it’s such a dang shame the perils of coronavirus prevent Denver die-hards from attending the friendly confines of Ball Arena.
With the roar of a real home crowd rattling the rafters instead of the current piped in, artificial noise that feels as phony as a laugh track for a bad sitcom, the unbridled passion of fans would’ve compelled to coach Michael Malone to keep Joker on the floor until he graciously gave the people wanted they wanted and scored 50 for the first time in his pro career.
So can I make one humble suggestion to give louder voice to Joker’s candidacy for MVP?
In any other season other than one dictated by a pandemic’s whims, the home crowd would not only salute Jokic every time he stepped to the foul line, but send a loud message throughout the NBA that our self-effacing Big Honey deserves every bit as much consideration to be recognized the best basketball player on the planet as either LeBron James or Kevin Durant.
After watching Jokic dismantle every defender the Jazz ran at him, Barton said: “There’s really nothing you can do with (Jokic) … You can’t stop him.”
So I asked Malone if he had enough pull with arena sound engineers and the team’s front-office muckety mucks to insist the Nuggets make a recording of a thunderous chant of “M-V-P! M-V-P! M-V-P!” and play it loud, louder, loudest whenever Jokic pauses to eye the rim before taking a free throw.
“I will talk to those guys to see if we can get the MVP chant,” Malone vowed. “MVP chants? We’ll see what we can do, Kiz.”
Hey, I’m always glad to help.
On a game-in and game-out basis, Jokic regularly does more than lift the Nuggets to the edge of serious championship contention. He’s trying to disrupt a trend and change the course of hoops history.
No true center has won the league’s MVP award since Shaquille O’Neal did it way back in 2000.
During this age when small ball is all the rage and X’s and O’s celebrate the emergence of a positionless game, this Joker has brought the idea of a dominant center back from the dead. Maybe that’s the revolutionary idea that can make his MVP candidacy resonate with voters for award.
Jokic is a unicorn that Jazz coach Quin Snyder repeatedly compares to Hall of Famer Larry Bird.
Yes, King James rules the basketball universe.
But if you still doubt the Nuggets’ unassuming and unlikely MVP candidate lacks the ability to turn how we view this beautiful game upside down, this Joker’s on you.