It’s not hard to see why two-time reigning MVP Nikola Jokic prefers the quiet and calm of his hometown: Sombor, Serbia.
Seated in front of an idyllic, lush green setting, with ample trees and no one to bother him, Jokic dutifully navigated his MVP conference call Thursday, his last team duty before unplugging into a well-deserved offseason.
Notoriously reticent to attention, Jokic nonetheless indulged questions about his place in basketball history, his love of horses, his preferred celebratory alcohol and that infamous Taco Bell commercial that flashed on-screen when the Nuggets made the greatest draft pick in NBA history, selecting him at No. 41 in 2014.
“You guys have seven and a half minutes more, so I’m gonna survive,” Jokic rebutted when asked about the increased attention before adding his obligatory touch.
“I’m joking,” he said.
Having made NBA history by becoming just the 13th player to win back-to-back MVP awards, Jokic has little to stress over. In all likelihood, he’s got even more generational wealth coming later this summer in the form of a roughly $254 million supermax deal, and he’s got an organization that just crossed the Atlantic to let him know how much they appreciate him. And that little trophy snafu? The one where he misplaced last year’s MVP award amid a move? That’s been resolved.
“I know where my last one is, and I know where this one is,” he said proudly.
Jokic was taken aback when his horse pulled into the stable Wednesday and he spotted Nuggets president Tim Connelly, team governor Josh Kroenke, coach Michael Malone, strength coach Felipe Eichenberger and assistant coach Ogi Stojakovic all waiting for him wearing a T-shirt with a specific message.
“Some people want to see you fail,” the shirt read. “Disappoint them.”
The quote, Jokic said, resonated with his underdog story.
Their investment in him as a person brought tears to Jokic’s eyes and reiterated how healthy their shared partnership is. The surprise quickly turned to a celebration, just as Jokic promised it would.
Surprise in Sombor We flew to Serbia to surprise the BACK-TO-BACK MVP! And, wow, this moment was special. pic.twitter.com/aFvIEDgnSj
— Denver Nuggets (@nuggets) May 11, 2022
“With some music and some beer,” he said. “ … And a little bit of rakija.”
The cornerstone of the Nuggets’ franchise is a person whose no-frills attitude is laughable compared to other NBA stars. His remarkable rise, from unheralded second-round pick to two-time MVP, is worth celebrating even if he reluctantly accepts the trappings of being a celebrity.
“To be honest, I don’t know that I inspire. … I never thought about that,” Jokic said. “It’s not a bad person to look up (to). I was the 41st pick.”
It’s not a reach, either, to call his MVP announcement, orchestrated in front of a stable of his favorite horse – Dream Catcher – the most indelible moment of his rich career. Always self-effacing, it was quintessential Jokic.
Kevin Durant’s famous “You the real MVP” speech to his mom was perfect … for Durant. Wednesday’s stage back home was equally perfect … for Jokic.
Despite the attention, his attitude toward individual awards vs. a championship pursuit hasn’t changed.
“All those individual awards … people are picking who’s gonna win it, and a championship is you winning it,” Jokic said.
Translation: debate the rightful MVP winner all you want, but a championship is undisputable.
Before Jokic logged off, wishing all in attendance his traditional farewell, he expanded on his offseason workouts designed to portend perhaps another MVP run.
“I just need two guys to rebound for me,” he said. “That’s about it.”
And then he deftly parried the final question of the news conference, the one bookending his modest, draft-night start to where he sat on Thursday as one of the game’s most humble superstars.
“Hopefully, I’m gonna have some percentage from the Taco Bell,” he quipped.