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Mike Lupica: Nikola Jokic leading the Nuggets into NBA Finals is all-time great basketball story

In this age when unselfish superstars like LeBron James and Steph Curry have won eight NBA titles between them, here comes Nikola Jokic, the best all-around player in the sport, who might win one of his own. If Jokic does that, he becomes one of the great pro basketball stories of all time. He is already the most complete big man since the young Bill Walton, as complete a big man as the sport has known.

Jokic is that good. That doesn’t mean he and the Nuggets are a lock to win the title because they got an easy Game 1 off the Heat. Just appreciate what you are watching as you watch these NBA Finals, because he is the best all-around player we have right now, better than LeBron and better than Steph and better than Durant and Joel Embiid. Good for Embiid winning the MVP award, by the way. But come on: Nobody is more valuable to his team than Jokic is to the Nuggets.

He comes to this moment from being the 41st pick in the 2014 NBA draft. Nobody ever drafted that low ever won two MVP awards. Jokic has. Not only was he drafted that low, he was enough of an afterthought that when the Nuggets did select him in the second round, there was a Taco Bell commercial running on TV. There were eight other foreign-born players drafted among the 40 drafted before him. This wouldn’t be significant if he weren’t the most important player right now. But he is. He came to all this from a moment like that.

Did the Nuggets know what they were getting? Did they think they were getting a big man who would do what he’s done in pro basketball without jumping very well, and lumbering up and down the court like the Amazon truck? Of course they didn’t. You never know. When the Knicks drafted Kristaps Porzingis, they called him a unicorn. They absolutely thought Porzingis could be the kind of franchise-altering player that Jokic has become in Denver. It didn’t work out that way. It has worked out like gangbusters in Denver.

Again: This isn’t meant to suggest that the Nuggets are about to roll Jimmy Butler and the Heat. We have seen too much from the Heat by now to think they will go quietly; that they are about to get rolled by the Nuggets as well as the Nuggets are playing and as well as they played in Game 1.

Butler and the Heat were getting rolled in Game 1, and not getting to the line, and missing so many 3′s you thought they’d turned into the Celtics in Game 7 at Boston Garden the other night. They were down 20 points and they had a perfect excuse to mail this one in after being in the barrel with the Celtics at Boston Garden after blowing that 3-0 lead. And still they cut Denver’s lead down to nine points in the fourth quarter before the Nuggets pulled away again.

Do the Nuggets look as if this is finally their time? They do. They were this good all throughout the regular season and then people started acting shocked that Michael Malone’s team continued to be this good once the postseason started. Could the Nuggets up and sweep this thing? They’re good enough to do that. Doesn’t mean they will. Doesn’t mean the Heat are going to go away. Maybe the Heat can figure out a way to neutralize Jokic. Nobody has yet. No disrespect to Embiid, but if you really thought he was more valuable than Jokic was this season, you’ve been watching the wrong movie.

This is the way Walton played when he got to Portland and the Trail Blazers became the best team in the world before Walton started getting hurt. The Blazers won one title and were 50-10 the year after they did. Then Walton could no longer tolerate the pain in his legs and feet and did not finish that season and things were never the same for the Trail Blazers after that.

“Without him, a brilliant team became a less-than-ordinary team,” the great David Halberstam wrote in “The Breaks of the Game.”

The Nuggets would be a less-than-ordinary team without Jokic.

He is not a glamorous star the way LeBron is, and Durant, and Steph, and even Jimmy Butler. The only time he has ever felt like the face of the league is right now, and that includes when he was winning those two MVP awards. But he plays the game the way Walton did as a center. He makes everybody around him better the way Walton did when he came to the league from UCLA. If you’re in the right place he will pass you the ball the way Walton did. If you’re not, you might want to watch him lead fast breaks the way he does, or step back and put the ball behind his head and make a 3-pointer.

And here’s the best part, if you love the Nuggets or just love watching basketball be played right: The guy from Serbia is still just 28 years old. If you’re keeping score at home, that is a decade younger than LeBron. He is seven years younger than Steph and he is six years younger than Kevin Durant. He is the same age as Giannis.

In the world of load management, the most regular season games Jokic has ever missed are the 13 he missed this season, the season when he essentially averaged a triple-double with 24.5 points per game and 11.8 rebounds and 9.8 assists. You show up for a Nuggets game and you know that Jokic is going to play. And then, man oh man, does he play, scoring and rebounding and — again — passing the ball as intelligently as any 6-11 big man has ever passed it.

“I don’t force it,” he said after he had scored 27 points and had 14 rebounds to go with 10 assists in Game 1.

“That’s how I learned to play the game,” Jokic said.

LeBron, to me, is the best all-around player over a career I have ever seen, in addition to being a consummate teammate. He has always been able to lift his teams when his teams had a chance at this time of year. But the Lakers had no chance against the Jokic and the Nuggets. For sure, Jokic had help. Jamal Murray is once again playing his own game at a high level. But the Lakers had no answer for Jokic because nobody had an answer for Jokic this season.

Win or lose he is already a story for all times in basketball, the guy from Serbia who came from being the 41st pick to do what he’s done just so far. We may be just starting to find out how far he can go.


This season sure does look like last season when the Mets starting pitchers pitch.

I don’t want to hurt anybody’s feelings, it’s not my nature, everybody knows what a giver I am — but I don’t give a rip whether Shannon and Skip are breaking up or not.

Now I freely admit that would mean actually ever having watched Shannon and Skip yell at each other.

But still.

All this time after the first movie, if “Ocean’s 11″ or “Ocean’s 12″ or “Ocean’s 13″ is on television, I’m absolutely going the distance.

One more thing about television?

I have been astonished all season by the hand-wringing and nitpicking about the final season of “Ted Lasso.”

It was great, and the final episode was great, and I still wish there was a way for the show to run for years.

“Ted Lasso” came along when we needed something exactly like it during COVID, and I still wish there was a way for it to stay around, just a little longer.

We are finding, day by day, that the Jets did the right thing, one hundred percent, by not letting the Aaron Rodgers thing drag out.

And doesn’t it seem already as if the guy has already been hanging at Florham Park for years?

It doesn’t even feel like news any longer when the Knicks fire another general manager.

It is always worth remembering that one Knicks team in this century has won more than 50 games in a season and Carmelo Anthony was the star of that team and finished third in the MVP voting that year.

That ain’t nothing when you’re closing the books on ‘Melo.

Wasn’t then, isn’t now.

You know who Jaylen Brown is?

He’s a younger version of Russell Westbrook.

So Nick Nurse gets recycled in Philly and Frank Vogel gets recycled in Phoenix and Monty Williams gets recycled in Detroit and, well, everything that’s old is new again in the NBA, right?

My pal Stanton is right: It’s not just the Giants who could use DeAndre Hopkins, the Jets could, too.

I wasn’t nearly as excited about the return of Josh Donaldson as I thought I was going to be.

The best October in baseball this season will be one with Mike Trout and Shohei Ohtani in it.

You know why LIV doesn’t want you to know what its television ratings really are?

Because you could fit those ratings inside a shot glass.

There is no braver and better citizen of the baseball community, and no more popular one, than Sarah Langs — a researcher for MLB who is a thousand times more than that — now battling ALS at far too young an age.

So while everybody thought about Friday as Lou Gehrig Day, as a way of raising awareness and raising money for ALS research, anybody who knows anything about Sarah or her story thought of Friday as Sarah Langs Day.

If you can contribute, please do.

Not just for Sarah, but for anyone afflicted with a disease for which there is no cure.



Source: Berkshire mont

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