He drank three liters of soda a day and preferred horses over basketball: Nikola Jokic, the star who led Denver to its first NBA ring

The double mark of Adebayo and Lowry cannot with Jokic in the game that defined the series (Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports) (Ron Chenoy /)

Denver Nuggets became champion of the nba for the first time in its history, by beating Miami Heat and take the series 4-1. Nicola Jokic He has been the emblem, as well as the goalscorer, of the team in a season in which he has not stopped breaking records. The 28-year-old Serb, two-time MVP winnerundoubtedly became the best center in the best league basketball of the universe their numbers They really scare and no one doubts that it will continue dethroning great legends of the NBA.

the jokeras he has been nicknamed since its inception, has joined the select group of players who have converted 500 points and provided 150 assists in a season. The Serbian now rubs shoulders with figures like lebron james (achieved this record six times), Russell Westbrook, Isaiah Thomas, Larry Bird, and Jerry West. However, the great record was achieved in the third game of this final, obtaining an unprecedented milestone: 32 points, 21 rebounds and 10 assists. That form signed by Jokic placed him as the first NBA to achieve a triple double of this caliber in the finals. A real madness.

This is nothing new for the 2.11 meter giant, since during the playoffs he broke another record what was record most triple-doubles in a single postseason. It happened in the Game 4 between Denver and Los Angeles LAkerswhen he reached a total of eight triple-doubles. The last NBA player to achieve this mark was Wilt Chamberlain in 1967.

Contrary to what many believe, this current NBA phenomenon came almost by chance. Here is his incredible personal story, of dramas and suffering, of struggles and perseverance.

Jokic is a center with silken hands and point guard management (Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports)
Jokic is a center with silken hands and base management (Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports) (Isaiah J. Downing /)

-Are you sleeping? You got drafted! how come you’re sleeping?

June 26, 2014. At the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, the nba makes its annual selection of players. Andrew Wiggins, Jabari Parker and Joel Embiid are the first to be selected in a tremendously powerful draft, which is still talking today. When it is the turn of the Nuggetsin position No. 41 of the second round, choose an unknown Nikola Jokic and a cry in Serbian is heard in the beautiful stadium. The one who celebrates is Nemanja, one of the player’s older brothers, who is there representing him. Minutes later, with a bottle of champagne in hand, he calls his native country to share the joy with the protagonist. But he finds himself in for a surprise: Nikola, from his bed, is startled by the screaming call of his brother…

This is the youngest of the Jokic, calm, relaxed, perhaps too much, very different from his father and two vehement brothers. A peace that he demonstrates on the court, when he reads the game and devises some genius that will later come out of his creative hands. Jokic, back then, was a hidden gem few knew about. That’s why he was selected so far back and He is undoubtedly one of the great “steals” in the history of the draft. There were not many who were waiting for the selection and that is why, as happened to our Manu Ginóbili in 1999 (in Macapá, Brazil, on tour with our Selection), he was sleeping when his name was announced by the commissioner, in this case Adam Silver. A year later he would arrive in the NBA as an unknown and Today he is one of the best players in the competition, the superstar of the Western champion and the partner who admired Facundo Campazzo the most.. Because he knew him and because he saw him shine in front of him in those quarterfinals of the World Cup on September 10, 2019, when Argentina gave one of the great surprises in history by beating Serbia 97-87.

But, to understand its current situation, it is necessary to situate ourselves in the lands of the former Yugoslavia, specifically in 1995. Nikola was born in Sombor on February 19 of that year, in the midst of the Balkan War, that bloody war that faced Serbia, Slovenia, Croatia, Macedonia, Montenegro and Bosnia and Herzegovina for a decade (between 1991 and 2001)., the six neighboring states that, for political, economic, cultural, religious and ethnic reasons, fought until they finally achieved their independence. Sure, nothing was free. The bloodiest armed struggle on European soil since World War II resulted in nearly 220,000 deaths and 2.7 million displaced persons/refugees, with bloody episodes. Like the one that happened in July, a few months after Jokic’s birth, in Srebrenica, 270 kilometers from Sombor, when the Bosnian Serb army (composed of Bosnian residents of Serb lineage) entered a supposed United Nations safe zone in Bosnia. Oriental. “What followed in the cities and fields around Srebrenica is described by Western officials and human rights groups as the worst war crime in Europe since World War II: the summary murder of 8,000 people,” the newspaper’s chronicle detailed. New York Times.

Jokic, who was four years old when NATO troops bombarded Serbia for 11 weeks in 1999, grew up in that context. Five years ago, Nikola recalled those moments of fear and uncertainty. “I remember the sirens, the bomb shelters, the lights always off… We were living practically in the dark. Even at 9am everything was off. I could not go out alone, my mother would not let me if my brothers did not accompany me “told in an interview with the site Bleacher Report.

His brothers were passionate about basketball.  But it was he who stood out (EFE/Erik S. Lesser/File)
His brothers were passionate about basketball. But it was he who stood out (EFE/Erik S. Lesser/File) (EFEI0499/)

In a not-so-big two-room apartment in Sombor, Nikola spent his time playing with his brothers. Strahinja, 13 years older, and Nemanja, 11, were already high school players when they tried, with balls and the motivation of a ring hanging on a door, to convince the minor to follow in his footsteps. But Nikola was never quite convinced. Far from the hyperactivity and physical capacity of his brothers, he preferred tranquility, passivity. Actually, he didn’t like the action that much. “I did some soccer and water polo with my brothers, because we lived competing, but I was never a fan of either,” he details. His thing was to study and stay away from great efforts. “All the teachers in elementary school loved me because I never made trouble, I studied and I was always being a bit silly. He was taller than most of the boys and girls. And the fattest one too (laughs). I loved some classes, like math and history, that’s all. But I didn’t like physical activities. Even in my high school days I couldn’t do a push-up.”, recalled who was seen as the “typical calm chubby in class”. Something that is clear in the childhood photos that have gone viral.

“Yes, he was the fattest, the biggest, but also the best on the team”, summed up the father, less a fan of basketball than his mother. “Nikola wanted to be with the ball, but he escaped from great efforts, gymnastics or training. You had to push him to do it,” said Robert Katona, his first physical education teacher. “In the study subjects he had no problems. Curiously, what was difficult for him was in physical education, ”says Gordana Ralevic, his English teacher. Katarina Naumov was his first coach and brings a memory that is closely related to what we see today in the NBA. “From the beginning we saw that he had capable hands and an exceptional reading of the game. He had a tendency to seek assistance, he liked that more than scoring ”, she explains about those first years in basketball. “I played as a pivot, but I liked being a point guard, chipping the ball and creating plays, although without moving much. I didn’t like demanding myself and I even used to cry every time I had to go to training. My father had to constantly convince me. Those were not times when basketball interested me so much, ”Nikola acknowledged.

Actually, what attracted him the most as a boy was the more country life. His place in the world was the stable and his best friends, the horses.. In Sombor, a quiet city of 40,000 inhabitants close to the Hungarian border, there were many farms and when he visited the first one from his father’s hand, he was flashed. For life there, for that peace that he breathed and how well it went with his essence. “That he inherited from me. As a child, he cleaned the stables before going to school, ”explains dad Branislav. The connection with the horses did the rest. “I always loved them, their beauty attracted me, and when I saw races, which were important in my city, that adrenaline that was lived ended up captivating me. That’s why I wanted to get on and experience that feeling. When you’re on a horse and you feel another one approaching and you have it there, in your ear, it’s amazing. you feel it You feel the earth shake when the horseshoes hit the ground, ”he admitted with a passion that he rarely exhibited when he talked about basketball. He ever admitted that “If I wasn’t a basketball player, I’d be a stable boy”That is why it was not surprising that a few years ago he fulfilled the dream of his life, buying a race horse that he called Dream Catcher (Dream Catcher). His passion is such that when Michael Malone, his DT in the Nuggets, went to visit him in his country to learn about the roots of the star, the first thing they did was take him from the airport to a race that the horse ended up winning. Nikola.

“I can’t ride anymore, but I would love to. Because I remember when I did it as a boy, ”acknowledged the pivot, whose photo above a sulky summarizes his great passion. “I didn’t keep competing because of my weight and height. They told me they could build bigger cars for me, but I ended up leaving it,” he recalled. At that time, although no one imagined this future as a basketball player, Nikola showed his potential. He first in the KK Vojvodina Srbijagas of Novi Sad until he was discovered by Misko Raznatovic, the famous representative who ended up taking him to Belgrade, specifically to the Mega Vizura that he drives. “When I found out that there was a 16-year-old boy who had 25 points and 25 rebounds, I sent Branimir Tadic, who is responsible for recruiting players like Boban Marjanovic, to see him. I told him that it was surely a boy who had developed physically before the rest but it was a big surprise when he called me saying that his physical condition was terrible, but his talent was very special, ”he recalled.

It was 2012 when Jokic began playing for Mega Vizura (later Mega Leks, today Mega Bemax), a team that in recent years has become a veritable talent factory, with ten of its jewels chosen in the NBA draft in the last decade. Nikola started in the junior cast and was summoned to the youth team of his country that would end up being U19 world runner-up in the Czech Republic. Jokic showed only flashes of what he could do (7 points and 5 rebounds in 17 minutes) but enough to end up in the club’s main team. His was not meteoric, like other European cracks. He averaged just 1.8 points and 2 rebounds in 10 minutes in the season one finale. In the next one (13/14), the coach trusted him more and played 13 games in the Serbian League and another 26 in the Adriatic League, with averages of 11.4 points, 6.4 rebounds, 2 assists and a cover in 25 minutes. Even Barcelona was about to sign him… he was 19 years old when, that first season, it motivated him to declare himself eligible in the draft. It was, more than anything, to test the market, see the interest of the teams. That’s why he was sleeping the same night the Nuggets picked him at that #41 second-round pick.

Jokic as a child in a Denver sweatshirt
A prophecy? Jokic, as a child, with the Denver Nuggets sweatshirt

It was a surprise for him and for many, above all because many scouts who had seen him had severe questions about his physique and professional ethics. The physique did not help him, less thinking about the super athletic NBA, and on top of that it was known about his addiction to soda. Just a few years ago, when he was already an NBA star, the Serbian admitted that after training I was able to drink three liters of Coca. “One glass after another, I couldn’t stop,” she acknowledged. Knowing that it would be his downfall, that to face the new challenge in the NBA, another diet, other care and another professionalism were necessary. So it was that he himself said that he drank his last soda on the flight to Denver, after finishing the season in Serbia and being the MVP of the Adriatic League with averages of 15.4 points, 9.3 rebounds and 3.5 assists in the regular season. .

Physical improvement was the priority that the Nuggets demanded and Jokic accepted, who lost 40 pounds before his NBA debut, since it was placed in the hands of the physical preparations Steve Hess and Felipe Eichenberger. “I didn’t expect to play my first year. My priority was to get well physically, ”he recalled. But his talent is so great that he quickly started playing. Just in his 12th game, he achieved a double double (23 points and 12 rebounds) and, at 19 years old, he earned the title the next game. Thus he began the path to finish in the ideal rookie quintet and third in the voting for Rookie of the Year with interesting averages of 10.7 points, 7 rebounds, 2.4 assists and 22 minutes. In his second season, with a Denver that continued to improve as a team, Jokic began to become the offensive lighthouse, with 16.7 points, 9.8 rebounds and already averaging 5 assists.

Mike Miller, his partner, captivated by his talent, was encouraged and gave him the nickname that stayed forever: Joker. Or the Joker, that enemy of Batman. The shooting guard, the only one they say could pronounce Nikola’s last name correctly in the locker room, put it on thinking about the similarities in pronunciation and, especially, about the tricks that the Serb could do on the pitch, especially in the happens. “I love the choice. Because it is someone who surprises someone, who is more intelligent, who can beat you. That’s why I liked him since he chose him, ”Nikola admitted. Malone, of course, did not need that nickname to realize that his talent allowed him to play and make play. Nikola He has that natural gift that, in such tall players, has only been seen in Arvydas Sabonis and Vlade Divac, -European- pivots with setter conditions: field vision, lucidity, silken hands and a lot of creativity in ratings for teammates. It came as no surprise, then, that Joker’s goal passes exceeded the average of 6 in the third season. Not that Nikola accompanied them with 18.5 points and 10.7 rebounds, numbers that did not stop improving and allowed him to earn a maximum contract, in 2018, of 146.5 million for five seasons and a place in the All Star Game. Today, having won his first title after eight NBA seasons and been elected MVP twice, he is considered the best center today, breaking the mold, being the team’s great playmaker from his position and displaying an impressive versatility that allows him to be averaging a triple double.

The physical change of Nikola Jokic (Infobae)

For now, beyond his star performances and million-dollar contracts, Jokic remained in his essence, with a low profile and without ostentation. He bought a modest three-bedroom residence in the center of the city, where he lives with his girlfriend and his two brothers.. The ostentations are not proper to him. “Clothes? No, I don’t fit her well, ”he admitted with a laugh. “Tattoos? They are not my thing. I leave them to my brothers, who with them look like serial killers, but in reality they are very nice people when you meet them,” he said after they both had some problems on the NBA court, especially with those who said something about the talented brother. minor. “It is true that they go crazy very quickly, nobody wants to sit near them. They have taken it from my father. I, on the other hand, am calm, I rarely get angry with someone, ”he explained. So is Nikola. An almost country boy who plays basketball out of sheer talent but, perhaps, if it were up to him, he would be reading a book, with a glass of soda in his hand or riding a horse through the Serbian meadows.

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