In mid-May, the NBA announced its regular-season MVP: Nikola Jokić of the Denver Nuggets. While some were shocked that other stars, like Giannis Antetokounmpo or Joel Embiid, missed out, many felt Jokić deserved the title—for the second year in a row.
Whether a fan of Jokić or not, this year’s MVP nominations list hints that the NBA is becoming more international than ever before. Jokić hails from Serbia, Antetokounmpo from Greece (and Nigeria through his parents), and Embiid from Cameroon.
Though none of the three players are on teams mentioned in the current NBA Championship odds, they’ve each made great strides to lead and improve their teams. While the Golden State Warriors are favored by oddsmakers, Jokić and company are making incremental and lasting changes on their squads.
And this year, the Denver Nuggets went above and beyond to show their appreciation to Jokić.
An Unforgettable Surprise for Jokić
When Denver Nuggets coach Michael Malone heard that Jokić had won the award for a second consecutive time, he decided that his team would be handing the MVP his award in Serbia. And, even better, the trip would be a total surprise.
So Malone made plans—which were nearly foiled when the 40-pound solid crystal trophy was flagged at security at the airport. However, the rest of the plan went without a hitch. Malone and a few other teammates made it to Serbia where Jokić spends his off-season relaxing. They rounded the corner to surprise Jokić.
Family and friends said the surprise was emotional and, despite its last-minute arrangement, went without a hitch.
From A Long Way Away
Immediately, the surprise proved a bit symbolic. Jokić’s local family was touched that the Nuggets team and staff had gone above and beyond to board flights, brave jetlag, and organize a surprise MVP awards ceremony in a matter of days.
Following the award handoff, the group enjoyed a traditional Serbian dinner and evening, which included plenty of music and dancing. Family and friends were touched that Nuggets staff had gone so far to meet and congratulate them. Malone’s desire to travel and honor Jokić in his own country, in which he has strong roots, wasn’t just about the MVP award.
Jokić has played on Malone’s team since he was drafted in 2014. Since then, Malone has seen Jokić grow up and improve. For him, it wasn’t just about creating an unforgettable moment for Jokić, but also being able to appreciate and honor where the player grew up. Malone then went on to say that he was proud of Jokić not just for landing his second NBA MVP award, but for not letting the fame and attention change him.