Denver Nuggets’ Nikola Jokić: MVP award not just about individual success
For Nikola Jokić, the Most Valuable Player award was never about a career season where he consistently proved his dominance night after night.
This was about Sombor, his small hometown in Serbia. This was about a Nuggets organization that’s been on the rise since he arrived in 2015. Most importantly, this was about family. So, when the news broke that Jokić would be named MVP, he made the award about them, not him.
“My family, they live every game with me, they live every moment with me,” Jokić said. “They’ve been with me from Day 1.”
In a season that saw unprecedented challenges due to the COVID-19 pandemic, it was that support that ultimately powered Jokić though. He used it to post one of the most historic seasons by a center in the NBA. Jokić played all 72 regular-season games and averaged 26.4 points, 10.8 rebounds, and 8.3 assists per contest. He also shot an incredibly efficient 56.6 percent and converted from downtown at a .388 clip.
“I’m thanking them because I got [the MVP] trophy, but I need to thank them every day,” he said.
Jokić also credited the Nuggets organization for being the foundation of his success.
“I couldn't do it by myself. It's something that it is an individual award but it's the effort of everybody who is part of the Denver Nuggets organization,” Jokić said.
He reserved special praise for the team’s head strength and conditioning coach, Felipe Eichenberger.
“One and a half, two years ago, he was telling me MVP, MVP. He was the first guy who put that in my brain,” Jokić said on TNT's Inside the NBA.
Nuggets head coach Michael Malone has seen Jokić progress from an unheralded rookie to the league’s best player during their six years together. The bond the two men developed turned Denver into a contending organization after some rebuilding years.
“The greatest thing that I can say about Nikola is that he fully represents the culture we have created here in Denver,” Malone explained
“You take an extreme amount of pride to [be] a really small part in his development, maturation, and his ascendancy.”
Malone also believes the Nuggets having their first-ever MVP is another step forward for the organization.
“I think it’s tremendous [for the team],” Malone said. “In my six years [as head coach], we’re always trying to build upon the basketball tradition of the Denver Nuggets.”
Despite being linked with the MVP award throughout the season, Jokić insisted he didn’t give much thought about actually winning it.
"I never thought about it. Like, even when the season was over, I was into the Portland series, so my focus wasn't on that," the center said. "I didn't want to even think about it because it's just a trophy, and the season is not over. So, I was just trying to keep my focus on the games."
Now that he is the first Serbian to win the award, he is curious what the reception will be when he returns back to his home country after the season.
“I don’t know [what the reaction is back in Serbia], I’m going to feel it when I go back home. I’m going to feel what it really means,” Jokić said. “What I want it to mean is that kids will go out and play basketball…If I do that for the kids back home, that will be my biggest accomplishment.”