Will an NBA Title Finally Make Nikola Jokić a Star?

The two-time league MVP is an elite player, but he's far from a household name

Nikola Jokic of the Denver Nuggets speaks after the NBA Finals.
Nikola Jokić is a champion, but he's still not a superstar
Justin Edmonds/Getty

As commercials featuring basketball stars including Jayson Tatum, Jimmy Butler, Kevin Durant, Chris Paul, LeBron James and more popped up intermittently during the NBA Finals, ads featuring two-time league MVP Nikola Jokić were few and far between, despite the fact that he was actually playing in, and dominating, the final round of the playoffs. The Serbian import — who went through Durant, Paul, James and Butler to win the NBA championship last night when the Denver Nuggets knocked off the Miami Heat in a hard-fought Game 5 — is the first player in league history to ever lead the playoffs in total points (600), rebounds (269) and assists (190). Not Abdul-Jabbar, Jordan, Johnson, Bird, Curry or James: Jokić.

It was a dominant performance worthy of an elite NBA superstar, and Jokić was awarded the Bill Russell NBA Finals Most Valuable Player trophy for his efforts. Selected in the second round of the 2014 draft with the 41st overall pick, Jokić is the lowest-drafted player to be chosen as finals MVP.

Afterward, Jokić indicated he was uncertain about whether he will stick around in Denver for the team’s championship parade on Thursday because he wants to go home and race his horses. “It’s good. It’s good. The job is done. We can go home now,” he said when asked how it felt to finally be a champion.

Jokić’s postgame demeanor is probably one of the reasons why he has not become a household name and has largely been ignored by sponsors. His manner is a bit gruff, his responses are straightforward and monotone, and he doesn’t show a great deal of personality. In a way, that fits perfectly with his game on the court, which is awkward, slow, unflashy — and effective as all hell.

While the 28-year-old has secured endorsement deals with major brands including Nike, Western Union and Panini and made the Forbes 30 Under 30 list for sports and games, he has yet to receive his own signature shoe and is largely absent from national media coverage that isn’t related to the NBA. Perhaps winning an NBA title with an all-time great performance will change that. Perhaps not.

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What’s certain is that Jokić has now joined Tim Duncan, Steph Curry, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Moses Malone, Magic Johnson, Larry Bird, Wilt Chamberlain, Jordan, Abdul-Jabbar and James on the list of players who’ve secured two regular-season MVPs and at least one in the Finals. “This was a historic run. I don’t know how you can say he’s not the best big man ever. I don’t think you can put it into context,” said Jokić’s Denver teammate Michael Porter Jr. “He does so many things for our team. I don’t think people understand how good of a basketball player he is.”

Maybe now they will.

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