hours later The Denver Nuggets’ first championship parade and a night of epic parties in Las Vegas, Nikola Jokic Hop on a plane back to his personal paradise — Serbia.
If the newly minted NBA Finals MVP thought he would fade into obscurity for a few months, instead, basketball fans worldwide have seen him enjoy a side of his life they’ve never seen before. Just two days later in his hometown of Sombor, thousands of people recorded Jokic’s every move as he drove to the local racetrack to watch his horses compete in his other passion — harness racing.
And so began the “Summer of Jokic” — the two-time league MVP’s 107 days (and ESPN’s NBArankNo. 2 players this season) living his best life. Whether it was dancing and singing along to live music while a crowd pumped its fists A celebration of his horse racing victories or Belt out the Serbian song While shirtless, Jokic starred in several viral moments that brought back the curtain on one of the NBA’s most individual superstars.
Jokic’s legend grew even bigger when the 6-foot-11, 284-pound center Cleverly executed a front flip off a raft A July cruise on the Tara River, which flows through neighboring Montenegro and Bosnia and Herzegovina — is perhaps even more impressive. “Sombor Shuffle” 3-point heave The big man on top of the Los Angeles Lakers Anthony Davis In the Western Conference Finals.
It even prompted San Antonio Spurs coach Gregg Popovich to call out his Denver counterpart, Michael Malone.
“What’s your man doing?” According to Malone, Popovich asked about Jokic. “I’ve been to that river, man. Is he crazy?”
From June 16, when Jokic started his shortest offseason at home, to the end when he returned to Denver in October. 1, the challenge was to try to pack as much as possible. Spending time with his family and horses is so important to Jokic that he surprisingly exclaimed “I gotta go home” when told of the championship parade.
That’s why Josh Kroenke, the Nuggets team president and governor, didn’t exchange text messages with Jokic like he usually does during the summer.
“We all left him alone,” Kroenke said. “For him to step away from basketball, be with his family and reconnect with who he is fundamentally with will only benefit the Nuggets and basketball as he comes back fresh.”
Jokic, though, hasn’t just worked on his dance moves this offseason. Even if Jokic claims he’s only touched a basketball “a few times” this summer, he’s largely stuck to an offseason routine that has produced two MVP trophies, a championship and a Finals MVP over the past three seasons, and hopes for a repeat title. .
“He was practicing and playing with some guys [a Serbian] Tim’s just somber,” Malone said during training camp. “I don’t know if he’s been in the gym with a ton of balls, but I know he’s been working out and trying to be in the best shape possible.
“I always am [focus on]’Is he mentally okay?’ [It’s] It’s always hard to leave Somber, his mom, his dad, his friends, the horses, and I worry about the emotional side of being back in Denver. But he’s been great. “He seems like he’s in a good place and I’m really encouraged by that.”
If only Jokic could turn off social media and keep all singing and dancing.
“People are bored,” Jokic explained to fans of his summer capture. “Same [me]They live a boring life so they want people to record a little more.
“You don’t have to look [all] that.”
“Summer of Jockey” Even features a rare cameo appearance by a teammate.
For the second straight offseason, Aaron GordonSummer vacation took him to Europe and his reunion with Jokic. A world-traveling force that Malone likens to Marco Polo, he visited London, Mallorca, Malaga, Geneva, Hong Kong, Beijing and Tokyo this offseason.
But one of Gordon’s favorite stops on his world-travel itinerary was Serbia. Gordon got the full Jokic experience in August, having traveled to Prague the previous offseason to watch Jokic and the Serbian national team play in the EuroBasket tournament.
Over the course of three days, Jokic took Gordon around Sombor, nearby Novi Sad, a lake house, his favorite restaurants and, of course, the racetrack. Gordon marvels at the culture and simple way of life in a town of about 40,000. He describes how one can walk from one side of Sombor to the other in “probably 35 minutes” and how quiet it is compared to the stressful rush-hour lifestyle in American cities.
“His routine there, his lifestyle, is very consistent,” Gordon told ESPN. “I could see his peace. The peace of mind translates on the court. That’s what makes him such a good player.”
Gordon also fell in love with food and Jokic’s favorite dish: fish stew.
“The food is amazing. There are huge portions,” Gordon said while comparing Sombor to “a town out of a storybook.”
“The architecture is beautiful,” Gordon added. “It seems like every building is unique… It’s very healthy, them [real] “The easy way of life.”
Jokic even converted Gordon into a harness racing fan. Gordon jumped and clapped as Jocic’s horse finished first in a race Later he proudly presented the trophy next to his teammate For later pictures.
Gordon joked that he wanted to bet on Jokic’s horse, but the big man said, “Hey Aaron, don’t jinx me.”
Meanwhile Serbia 🐎 pic.twitter.com/tdIIb0Q8mV
— Denver Nuggets (@Nuggets) August 15, 2023
As he has on the court, Jokic has found success on the track.
“I have [horses] In France, Italy, Serbia — they all won races,” he said. “So I’m happy. They don’t have to win races. This is my hobby. I just want them to stay healthy and run well.
“When I finish my career, I’m going to do that. I’ll have a lot of horses.”
Jokic, though, still has plenty of triple-doubles left in him. And one of the Nuggets he’s developed a connection with is Gordon. Jokic assisted Gordon 155 times last season, second only James Harden244 of it assists Joel EmbiidAccording to ESPN Stats & Facts.
“He and I have better chemistry on the court than we did,” Gordon said. “And that’s saying something.”
One part of Gordon’s tour that hasn’t made social media has been his workouts with Jokic, who keeps his training sessions offline.
“You can see he doesn’t have social media, he doesn’t want to show that he’s working out,” Felipe Eichenberger, the Nuggets’ strength and conditioning coach, told ESPN. “It’s nothing against people wanting to show they’re working, that’s fine.
“But he’s working out again at the same gym he first started in. When I got there [early in Jokic’s career]It’s 100 degrees [in there] Birds are thrashing on the floor.”
Although he didn’t go this summer, Eichenberger worked out with Jokic several times in Sombor. With the help of the Serbian counterpart, Eichenberger adjusted Jokic’s usual offseason training to a shortened version (107 days compared to the average of 150 days) and sent workout details via an app.
Jokic hit the weight room twice his first week at home for 30 minutes per session, eventually working his way up to five times a week. After the third week, Jokic added cardio twice a week before implementing non-contact drills followed by contact basketball.
“He’s the best player in the world,” Gordon said. “She works out like a monster. … Her regimen, her diet and how detail-oriented she is with her body, is second to none.”
Eichenberger said Jokic came into camp in “pretty good” shape and the Nuggets want to be on top of him come the playoffs. During last season’s title run, Jokic became the first player in NBA history to lead the playoffs in points, rebounds and assists while posting the most triple-doubles (10) in a single postseason.
“We don’t [need] He’s in top shape right now,” Eichenberger said at camp last week. [it’s] playoffs, and he can do it again.”
for a few days At Nuggets camp, Jokic was so outspoken during an official presentation rules with retired referee Joey Crawford that Malone was going to “get into it.”
Teammates have also noticed that Jokic is leading more through his words or actions.
“He’s been way more vocal this year,” the Nuggets second-year guard said Peyton Watson said “… [During Crawford’s] In the seminar, he probably had 10 questions. Last year, he wouldn’t say anything, just sat there and shook his head.
“I think he’s more comfortable and that’s a great thing to see because we want to hear from him as much as possible.”
Malone wants Jokic around Jamal Murray, to communicate and lead more this season. As with vocal veterans Jeff Green And with Ish Smith no longer on the team, Malone needs his star duo to take more ownership of the locker room. Jokic can also improve defensively; According to Second Spectrum, he allowed opponents to shoot 68.5% at the rim last season, the worst percentage among the 29 players to defend 350 or more shots at the basket.
But his offensive game continued to blossom. He increased his overall field goal percentage in five consecutive seasons — the second player in NBA history to take 1,000 or more shots in each season. LeBron James‘Seven straight seasons, according to ESPN Stats & Data.
“He’s only 28,” Gordon said. “So he’s going to be smarter at manipulating the defense [and] Offense …sees no one stopping him. They still haven’t found an answer for him.”
Jokic, though, never stops looking for any edge he can gain on the opposition. While many enjoyed his partying videos this summer, Jokic spent time online watching basketball tips from Serbian coaches such as Zeljko Obradovic, Dusan Alimpijevic and former Phoenix Suns coach Igor Kokoskov.
When asked why he watches basketball video seminars so often, Jokic revealed why the “Summer of Jokic” wasn’t all dancing and singing.
“I think if you want to get better,” Jokic said. “You have to be [a] Fanatic of basketball.
“This needs to be your life.”