Nikola Jokic never looks too far into the future. He’s the rare NBA superstar who lives in the moment. He operates matchup to matchup and game to game. Jokic is never thinking about what a stat line that’s never been posted since Wilt Chamberlain means for his MVP candidacy. He’s never been concerned with what another triple-double will do for his standing in NBA history.
But on Wednesday, Jokic reflected for a moment. He took a second to ponder his own legacy, one that’s being written in real-time and had a chapter added to it in the Nuggets’ latest win.
“I want everybody to remember me as the guy who was a really good team player,” Jokic said a couple of hours after he became the Nuggets’ all-time franchise leader in assists.
Jokic moved passed Nuggets legend and Hall-of-Famer Alex English atop the franchise’s assist leaderboard with 8:44 left in the third quarter of the Nuggets’ 122-118 win over the Timberwolves. After a Minnesota turnover, Jokic, like he often has throughout his career, quickly handed the ball to the closest official, hurried to the sideline and inbounded the ball before the defense was set. He found a wide-open Kentavious Caldwell-Pope behind the defense for Denver’s easiest basket of the night.
In classic Jokic fashion, he had no idea he was closing in on the record. Nuggets PR Director Nick O’Hayre informed him earlier this week that he was about to break it. In the postgame locker room, Jokic was presented with the game ball signed by all of his teammates.
“It’s not something that I was dreaming of or wanted to achieve,” Jokic said.
Jokic is arguably the best scorer in the NBA. He faces constant double-teams and varied defensive schemes every night, yet is averaging 25.1 points per game on historical efficiency. He’s the most efficient post-up player in the NBA. He can score from anywhere on the floor. But passing has always been his preferred method to dissect a defense.
This is the same guy who proclaimed at the Nike Hoop Summit back in 2017 that basketball “is about teammates,” and then announced midway through his sophomore season that he prefers to pass rather than score because assists “make two people happy.”
He never diverted from that philosophy, and the rest of his team has followed his lead.
In the NBA, your best player sets the culture for your entire organization. Ever since Jokic has taken the reigns as Denver’s cornerstone and foundation, a selfless style of basketball has spread throughout the Nuggets’ locker room. The Jokic way has been contagious. Throughout most of the Jokic era, the Nuggets have always passed up good shots for great ones. Look over to the sideline and you’ll always see Denver’s reserves, who aren’t getting playing time, ecstatic for their teammates who are currently taking their minutes.
That’s his legacy.
With every new player that joins the Nuggets’ organization, you see Jokic’s influence. Last offseason, Aaron Gordon committed to raising his basketball IQ and becoming a smarter overall player so he could better compliment Jokic and play better off of him. Gordon realized that the best way to play was Jokic’s way and completely reshaped his game after arriving in Denver. Michael Porter Jr. came into the NBA as a No. 1 scorer and an absolute bucket-getter. Throughout his entire high school career, he was relied on every night to manufacture points, by himself. Now in his fourth season, Porter has completely bought into the Nuggets’ unselfish nature. You can’t tell me Jokic’s basketball philosophy had nothing to do with that.
That’s his legacy.
Jokic will likely sit atop every Nuggets leaderboard one day. I’m confident that he’ll never seriously think about playing for another franchise. If Jokic continues at this current pace, he’ll one day score more points than English did in a Nuggets jersey. He’ll pretty soon secure more rebounds than Dan Issell (Jokic needs only 724 rebounds for that crown). He’s already the best player in Nuggets’ history and the record books will eventually show it.
But you do get the feeling that this honor means more to him than those will. When a Jokic statue eventually gets built outside of Ball Arena, it should be of Jokic passing. Because that’s him. Jokic is an incredible all-time scorer, but making his teammates better is what defines him as a player.
“To be honest, maybe that’s the first thing I’m kind of proud of,” Jokic said after breaking the record Wednesday night. “Just because hopefully my teammates love to play with me because I share the ball.”
That’s his legacy.