Nikola Jokic: Five things you didn't know about the NBA 2020-21 MVP
Nikola Jokic was awarded the NBA (National Basketball Association) MVP award on 8 June as he continues to star for the Denver Nuggets in the Western Conference playoffs.
The 26-year-old is averaging career highs in points (26.4) and assists (8.3) per game, while also recording 10.8 rebounds per contest and posting the second-most triple-doubles in the 2020-21 regular season with 16) - pretty impressive for a 2.11m (7ft) center!
Of course, for fans of the Nuggets, Jokic's sublime performances have come to be expected. But now, the rest of the NBA are starting to take notice of the Serbian phenom.
Nikola Jokic: A worthy MVP
The Rio 2016 silver medallist is proving he can adapt as teams continue to try different defensive schemes in an attempt to shut down his offensive game. Jokic has helped the Nuggets advance to the Western Conference semi-finals, where they are locked in a tight battle with the West's No.2 seed Phoenix Suns.
On 8 June, the 26-year-old earned his first MVP award on the strength of a regular season that saw him post career highs in points and assists, while also recording the second-most triple-doubles in the league and leading the Nuggets to the joint fifth-best record in the league. Jokic also happens to be the first center to win MVP since Shaquille O'Neal in 2000, and the first second-round draft pick to win the award in modern NBA history.
"The guy (Jokic) has an unbelievable talent of seeing the floor and seeing plays happen before they happen," LeBron James told ESPN
Jokic: Chasing the NBA title
Jokic and the Nuggets made a huge statement in the 2019-20 postseason, stunning the Los Angeles Clippers in the Western Conference semifinals in seven games, becoming the first team in NBA history to come back from 3-1 down in a series twice in the same post-season (the Nuggets defeated the Utah Jazz in the first round of the playoffs). Jokic stacked up 16 points, 22 rebounds and 13 assists, joining Kevin Garnett and Tim Duncan as the only players to record a 20-rebound triple-double in a playoff game - and Jokic is the first to do it in a Game 7.
Their reward was a rendezvous with LeBron James and the Los Angeles Lakers in the Western Conference Finals, a series the Lakers soundly won by four games to one.
The question this season for the Nuggets is whether they can repeat their success from 2020 - and perhaps go one step further and make it to the NBA Finals.
Jokic for the Olympics?
With the Tokyo 2020 Olympics officially opening on 23 July, and the Nuggets and Jokic still competing in postseason play, there are questions as to whether Jokic will be present at the Games - especially considering Serbia are yet to qualify for the competition.
Serbia must first win their Olympic Qualifying Tournament (OQT) - held in Belgrade from 29 June to 4 July - in order to join the 12-team field in Japan.
Joining Serbia in their OQT are the Philippines and Dominican Republic (the three teams make up Group A of the OQT), and Italy, Puerto Rico and Senegal (Group B). On paper, Serbia are the favourites to win the OQT, but if Jokic is unable to join his international teammates due to the Nuggets' playoff push, it will be a big blow for the host nation.
Five things you didn't know about Nikola Jokic
With Jokic trending worldwide, here are five things you may not have known about Serbia's big man:
1. Nikola Jokic didn't even like basketball at first!
That's right. The three-time NBA All-Star had to be dragged to basketball training by his father when he was 10 years old.
By the age of 13 he stopped playing completely, as he wanted to pursue horse racing.
He even cleaned barns while training to become a harness horse rider!
Thankfully for Jokic, he decided to give the game another chance - we'd say that move worked out pretty well for him.
2. Brought up on Magic
Jokic eventually came back to basketball at 15, and started gorging on YouTube clips of Lakers legend Magic Johnson.
The young Serb loved watching the American's passing game, combined with Hakeem Olajuwon's mid-range plays.
He also spent hours watching Michael Jordan because... it's Michael Jordan!
3. A physical challenge
Natural talent will only take you so far.
When he first signed a professional contract with Serbian team Mega Vizura, Jokic was not able to do a single press-up.
The club subsequently started him on a special strength program with a personal trainer to improve his strength.
4. From sugar to slam dunk!
It wasn't only Jokic's small muscles that were a problem at first.... he also had a bit of a belly!
Addicted to Coca-Cola, he used to drink around four litres of the stuff - a day! He had to drop his addiction and change his eating habits when he was drafted by the Denver Nuggets, and he lost 14 kg just before the start of his first NBA season.
The 26-year-old now weighs a lean and mean 113kg.
5. Living the dream...
Imagine waking up to find out you had been selected to play professional basketball in the NBA. That's exactly what happened to Nikola Jokic.
After the Denver Nuggets selected him with the 41st overall pick in the 2014 NBA Draft, Jokic's brother woke him up to tell him the news.
And his reaction? He hung-up and continued to sleep, thinking it was all dream.