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Denver Nuggets center Nikola Jokić before a preseason NBA basketball game between the Golden State Warriors and the Nuggets in San Francisco, Wednesday, Oct. 6, 2021. (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu)
Nikola Jokić Week: Unraveling Our Reluctant MVP

Nikola Jokić Week: The Carefree Cultural Icon

From his laidback attitude to his aversion to social media, Jokić isn’t like any other NBA superstar. But that’s why we love him.

Nikola Jokić Week: To celebrate Nikola Jokić’s MVP award and the start of the Denver Nuggets’ regular season, 5280 is devoting the entire week (October 18 to October 22) to stories that explore the identity of the Mile High City’s most beautiful enigma. In short: Who is The Joker?

In a league full of loud personalities, social media shenanigans, and six-figure sneaker collabs, our modest Nikola Jokić is an outlier. Even after receiving the NBA’s highest honor last season, the Denver Nuggets center actively avoids the spotlight. Instead, he attempts to fly under the radar—a cultural enigma known only for his deadpan jokes, childlike antics, and simple rags.

Perhaps it’s Jokić’s aversion to the archetypal NBA celebrity—or taking himself too seriously in general—that causes the league to sometimes disregard him. But his happy-go-lucky persona and unflashy appearance are part of a charming equation that has us hooked. (After all, we’ve never been known for dressing to impress in Denver.) Here, we break down the anatomy of Big Honey’s many quirks, along with why they make us adore him so.

Pre-Game Playlist

We already know that the sound of horses eating hay is music to this big man’s ears. He’s even inspired a few Serbian rap songs. But when it comes to Jokić’s pump-up playlist, Serbian folk music gets him in the zone. The traditional tunes are known to draw a jig from the Joker, as well as occasional complaints from fellow teammates—especially when he hogs the aux in the weight room to blast popular Croatian crooner Siniša Vuco (think: the European turbo-folk equivalent of, say, a Nickelback).

Boyish, Bare-Minimum Garb

Despite his superstar status, you won’t see Jokić flashing a Russell-Westbrook-style, fresh-off-the-runway pregame fit. (Nuggets small forward Will Barton carries the team there.) Rather, Jokić consistently opts for the humble drip—rarely veering from the trusty, team-provided groutfits (an all-grey outfit, for the uninitiated), or a well-loved T-shirt-and-shorts ensemble that looks like it was plucked from a local thrift bin. Weather permitting, he’s quick to ditch the sleeves.

Unplugged from Social Media

Jokić may be a walking meme, but the Nuggets star refuses to indulge in society’s favorite addictive pastime. After deactivating his former Instagram account, @Jokara95, several years ago, he has no active profiles on any major social media platforms, something coach Michael Malone applauds him for. Still, he’s enjoyed his fair share of TikTok fame. We also wouldn’t be surprised if he was running a ghost NBA troll account on Twitter.

Dancin’ Feet

The man is known for his moves—and we’re not talking about his famous Sombor Shuffle. Despite the gargantuan efforts required to move those hips and feet off the ground, Jokić is always ready to let loose and groove (especially if it’s to his favorite folk music). For evidence, look no further than his fresh take on the modern-day “dab,” or him teaching his teammates a traditional step or two.

Avid Gamer

Jokić is cool as a cucumber when it comes to the pressures of performing on the big stage, and his quietly competitive spirit carries over to other arenas—like locker-room video game sessions and Pokémon benders, apparently. His volleyball hobby shines through any time he’s on hardwood—and he’s keen on American football these days, too (fitting, as he may be the best quarterback prospect in Denver).

A Certain Twang

To the untrained Denver ear, the MVP’s voice simply sounds “Serbian.” But, according to fellow Serb and dedicated Jokić superfan/podcaster Miroslav Ćuk, Jokić speaks with the “thick” north Serbian accent common to his home city of Sombor, which is equivalent to the dramatic drawl of an American “country” accent. How’s that for smooth talkin’?

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