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This One Is for Nikola Jokic, the Swashbuckling Sasquatch

You see traces of Arvydas Sabonis, Kings-era Chris Webber, the brothers Gasol, and Vlade Divac. Sometimes there’s a little Yao in the mix. Still, there’s a first time for everything and Nuggets center Nikola Jokic is very much a one of one.

A photo collage of Nikola Jokic Getty Images/Ringer illustration

The Beefy Man in the White Tights—his legs look like straws. Massive straws that support the thickset king.

Nikola Jokic believes in himself. It was earlier this season, on the road, Toronto in December. He caught the ball on the left wing. Celebrity chef and aspiring male model Serge Ibaka closed out on him and Jokic drove, two bounces with the left, and the double came. It came in the form of Delon “Scones” Wright, Scones having left his man, Jamal Murray, all alone in the opposite corner. Murray was, at this time, hanging out, staring at his reflection in a hand mirror he keeps in a pocket they’ve sewn into the inside of his game shorts. He smiled at himself. He blew kisses. He asked someone sitting courtside to tell him he was beautiful. They refused. He acted like they were weird. He tried to fart on them. He couldn’t work one up. He pocketed the mirror and bent at the knees, looked at his leader.

Jokic spun away from the double and in a smooth, WD-40’d motion threw a one-handed, no-look pass across his body to Murray. He threw it with style. He threw it with dignity. He threw it with panache. Then he started to backpedal. This was a noble pass, wellborn and true. One of the announcers said, “Look at that.” A collection of oooooo’s came from the viewing public. Scones tried to recover in time but Paul Millsap, the most trustworthy man in the world, erased him with a pick. The pass was still in the air. Jokic kept backpedaling. The announcers kept complimenting the pass.

“Wow.”

“I mean look at that pass.”

Murray caught the ball and was stoked. Jokic kept backpedaling. More from the announcers.

“If you don’t look at that pass I’m gonna lose it. I swear to God. I will freak out on live television if you don’t look at that pass.”

“Calm down, man. Jeez. You’re sounding like an idiot right now.”

“I know for a fact that’s not true. I sound great. I sound beautiful. I have a very beautiful speaking voice.”

“Your voice sounds gross, dude. You’re gross sounding.”

“That’s out of bounds, friend. You keep it between the lines.”

“I will not. I will swerve all over the road.”

“Keep it between the lines at once.”

“I will never stop swerving.”

“Your personality exhausts me. You remind me of dump I took once.”

“Guess I’m just a bad boy doing what bad boys do.”

“What?”

“Guess I’m just a bad boy doing what bad boys do.”

“Dude, you are very stupid. What a very dumb thing for you to say. I want to move on from it.”

“Did you see the trailer for that new movie Welcome to Marwen yet?”

“I did. Looks good.”

“Looks great. Potentially the film of the year, in my opinion. And I see a lot of movies so I would know.”

“That doesn’t make any sense. We should try to go see it in IMAX if we can.”

“We can and we must. Steve Carell has been doing fantastic work his entire career. I’m sure this is no exception.”

“It seems like it could be the one that finally gets him the Oscar.”

“I was thinking the same thing as well.”

“That’s awesome, man. It’s fun to be smart. It sounds like our brains are similar in that they are both powerful and cool.”

“I agree so much. We do have very cool brains.”

“Isn’t it bonkers he never won an Emmy for playing Michael Scott? Sheldon and Alec Baldwin shut him out. Total nonsense from the voting body.”

“I’m fine with Parsons taking down a few. He’s a grinder. Very obviously puts in the work. Now, Alec Baldwin’s ass...”

“It just starts to look worse and worse each year.”

“The injustice that is an Emmy-less Steve Carell or Alec Baldwin’s ass?”

“I was talking about Emmy-less Steve Carell but I do agree with you that Baldwin’s butt gets significantly worse each day.”

When Murray’s shot went through the net, Jokic wasn’t even on the screen anymore. He’d kept backpedaling until he got to the other end of the floor. He knew the ball wouldn’t need to be rebounded. Nikola Jokic believes in his friends.

It’s like there’s an extra engine in the leather on his passes. They zoom, a more focused energy behind them. They’re zesty. Flavorful. I love the television show Bar Rescue. I like at the end of an episode when host/titan/pure beam of light Jon Taffer has changed things and the place has reopened and the camera goes around and the customers talk about how good the food is now. They grab at cooking-show buzzwords from the recesses of their minds. “I got the Chicken Von Chicken. It’s really nice. Great dish. Really flavorful. The chicken and the potatoes go really well together. Just really juicy. Really flavorful.”

Jon Taffer goes to work. Taffer has no time for excuses. Taffer wields the word “bacteria” like a flaming golden sword. Taffer was born to banshee shriek the word while wearing dark-rinse jeans, an elegant navy blazer, and a black (potentially coated nylon, though I can’t be sure) T-shirt reminiscent of the kind Stan Van Gundy would wear before the league started making him wear shirts with collars. Next month, he’ll be hosting a new show on the Paramount Network, a Bar Rescue spinoff called Marriage Rescue. Sometimes God gives gifts. This is a real thing. (Kacey Musgraves “Oh, What a World” begins). Based off the trailer, the show appears to be essentially the same as Bar Rescue only instead of rage-screaming at people about how bad their bar is, he rage-screams at people about how bad their marriage is. At one point in the trailer he says, “Because I’m not a therapist, I don’t care what their mother said to them when they were 6 years old.” That seems like a smart way to approach things and I support him wholeheartedly. At another point, he screams at one of the husbands, “You don’t control me and you don’t like it.” I have to tell you, I get the sense the husband was in the wrong. Lots aggressive pointing from Taffer throughout. This also looks to be the debut of what I’m going to call Casual Wear Taffer (CWT). He looks to be unleashing the full force of his solid-colored-camp collared-shirt collection. He’ll save their marriage or humiliate them trying. Let the healing begin.

You don’t control Jokic. Mad genius is nothing to trifle with and Chewbacca-sized people tend to make the rules, not follow them. There’s something warm about his skill set. Not familiar, exactly, but inviting because of its potential to be surprising. Kevin McHale has called a fair number of Nuggets games this postseason and there have been multiple instances where Jokic has done something so wildly out of place for someone his size McHale can’t help but giggle.

A rumbling pot of porridge. Wide-legged linen pants. Ron Mueck’s Big Man come to life. These are a few of my favorite things I use to describe what Jokic is like. None of them beat this one.

There is an animal magnetism to Nikola Jokic. An imperial hippo. He reminds me of a party barge. My favorite novel is The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle or Nikola Jokic’s Jump Shot. His arms always look like they’ve just been slapped. Sometimes they’re the color of ham. I mean that as a compliment. This too: He could probably hoop in blue jeans and boots and be just as effective. He could probably show up to your local rec league in a pair of Levi’s 501s and cowboy boots and put up a 40/13/11 line in 18 minutes. He’d stay after to complain to the staff that the court was too dirty and his shoes couldn’t get the kind of grip he desires. After that he’d probably just go to Wendy’s, eat five Jr. Bacon Cheeseburgers, hang out by the fountain drinks, try to make people laugh.

There’s a performer’s streak in him. He’s a comedian. Elements of Joakim Noah, Brad Miller, Papa Sabonis, Kings-era Chris Webber, the Brothers Gasol, and Vlade Divac. Sometimes, if you squint, there’s a little Yao in the mix. Still, there’s a first time for everything and Jokic is very much a one of one.

There may not be a player in the league with softer hands. There may not be a player in the league with better touch around the rim. He can turn over either shoulder and finish with either hand. He can get a defensive rebound, shotgun it, and lead the break. He can methodically back somebody down and drop a hook in over their head. He can post somebody up, draw a double, and get an assist. He can shoot a jumper over someone smaller. He can go around bigs who try to press up on him. He can bang. He can step out and hit the 3. He’ll take and make floaters and fadeaways and go behind his back in a crowd three different times. I have to assume he’s right-brained, fearless, and arrogant as hell. It’s such a special skill set wrapped in such an odd package. He’s 7 feet tall with the ill-defined yet still somehow imposing body of one of those old-timey heavyweight boxers. He’s also a gymnast.

I’d like to take a moment and go back to his beautiful hands. They are awesome. They are deluxe. They make the Nuggets go round. He’s the J.P. Prewitt of the league. You don’t just walk out into the world and find hands like these. These are the hands of an angel. A burly, professional angel.

I can understand why someone wouldn’t like him. He’s not without his sins. He whines too much when he’s called for something and on offense there can be some flailing and begging for the whistle. He regularly exaggerates contact and, despite working hard at it, still leaves a fair amount to be desired on the defensive end. Some Blazers fans might even call him dirty. He’d be infuriating to play against. I totally get it if your eyes roll to the back of your head when someone on the internet starts complimenting Jokic’s passing. I’m going to keep going, but I did want to acknowledge you. I used to count myself among your number. I don’t anymore. He wound up being too much fun. Have people in Denver joked that he should play quarterback for the Broncos? That’s almost a guarantee, right? That fruit hangs so low it scrapes the earth.

Part of the joy of watching him pass is how casual about it he can be. He’ll thread one through three sets of arms and look like someone’s talking to him about our nation’s tax laws. Nonchalant, laissez-faire, unhurried. These are words. He’s a swashbuckler masquerading as a Sasquatch. It’s a casual audaciousness—it’s like he’s simultaneously bored and bold—a cocktail of aesthetics that doesn’t often come in a slower-than-your-average-bear 7-footer. He’s a glass-half-full type, very hopeful. You can tell by the chances he takes. He’s someone you rewind a lot. It goes without saying but he’d be an unbelievable street magician.

He’s been a monster this entire postseason. These are his per-game averages through 12 playoff games, which, if you’ve read this far, you’ve already seen and will probably skip over but whatever, I would probably do the same thing and at this point I’d actually be super pissed this joke’s gone on for as long as it has. In 39.8 minutes: 24.5 points, 13.1 rebounds, 9.0 assists, 50.5 FG%, 38.3 3P%, 85.7 FT%. This is his first trip to the playoffs. He’s 24. These are his per game averages for the Portland series. In 43.3 minutes: 26.4 points, 14.4 rebounds, 8.8 assists, 52.7 FG%, 47.1 3P%, 83.9 FT%. He played 65 minutes in Game 3. That’s the most ever played in an NBA playoff game since 1953. Somebody get him a cheeseburger and a cigarette. Somebody else get him a couch and a Gatorade.

Jokic clothed entirely in tactical gear carrying a bag full of spy equipment. Jokic saying things like “tap into the mainframe” and “I do not like mistakes. They frustrate me.” In Game 4, with 50 seconds left in the third quarter, Rodney Hood came down with a defensive rebound. Jokic took it away from him and got the ball to Gary Harris. Harris passed it right back to Jokic and Jokic drove right on Zach Collins. Mid-foray he decided the best course of action was a running, right-handed hook shot off one leg. He was right. It looked great and it went in. More giggles from McHale, and then, with genuine affection in his voice, “That big fella’s got great hands, boy.”

ame 5 was more of the same from Jokic, and the Nuggets turned in their most dominating performance of the series, a 124-98 beatdown of the Blazers. Jokic earned his paycheck, ended the game with 25, 19, and 6 and showed off his full buffet of skills for the home crowd. One play in particular sticks out.

With a minute and a half left in the first quarter, Jokic threw a baseball pass the length of the court, from the block on one end to the block on the other. He hit Harris squarely between the numbers. McHale called this game, too. Earlier in the quarter he’d called Jokic a gifted young man, but the 94-foot dime made him swoon all the more. From McHale: “What an unbelievable ability that man has to impact the game in so many positive ways for his team.”

Jokic has been having a much-publicized war with microphones over the course of this postseason. He’s following in the tradition of another 7-foot European, Dirk Nowitzki, in choosing to hold his mic during postgame press conferences, rather than just leave it on the table and speak into it. These struggles are good. He needs to go through them. If he keeps playing the way he has been, the mics will only increase.

I’m a boring person. I stopped writing this to go watch “Conan Busts His Employees Eating Cake” on YouTube. I sought that specific video out. I like the part where Conan says “bombs away” as he sends the email. I think that’s a cool, funny thing to say when you send an email or a tweet or a text or something like that. I also like the part when Jordan Schlansky says, “People love just shoving food in their mouth and may not appreciate what they’re eating. Why not save it for those that appreciate it?” and Conan responds to that with, “Oh my God. Have you been reading Ayn Rand novels?”

When the video was over, I took a drink of my Passionfruit LaCroix. Passionfruit is my favorite of all the LaCroix. Do you see what I’m saying? Surely these last 10 or 11 sentences have convinced you I have the personality of a tree. I’m spectacularly boring. Jokic, on the other hand, is an amusement park. It’s bells and whistles and food and games and rides. A thousand delights. A soiree on the hardwood. His is a bag filled with goodies and treats. The number of no-look passes is kind of astonishing. Sometimes he decides to handicap himself by not jumping at all and only playing with one hand. His footwork’s great.

Even in tight spaces he finds ways. With just over four minutes left in the third quarter of Game 3, he went full Hakeem (go to 1:41). Harris set a cross pick for him and he caught the entry from Murray on the move, just outside the left block. Enes Kanter, briefly inhibited by the Harris screen, was a few steps behind. Jokic took a dribble to the left and put Kanter in the wash, spun back to the middle, and dropped in a teardrop of a right hook. WD-40 coated this move, too, the whirling and twirling done smoothly by the Beefy Man in the White Tights. It was sylphlike. He’s balletic, may as well have been wearing pointe shoes. Relevé, Joker! Relevé!