Nikola Jokic made history Thursday night at Ball Arena.

The kid from Sombor, the 41st overall pick, the once upon a time fat point guard who used to drink three liters of Coca-Cola a day is the only player in NBA history with 2,000 points, 1,000 rebounds, and 500 assists in a single season. Wilt Chamberlain never did that. Neither did Michael Jordan, Larry Bird, Magic Johnson, LeBron James, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, or Bill Russell.

Jokic did. He clinched the milestone on a 3-foot spinning, wrong-footed awkward-looking, turnaround hook. It was perfect.

In typical Jokic fashion, he had no interest in basking in the glory of a historic night that all but clinched his second-straight MVP.

His mind was elsewhere.

“My brother had a baby last night, so I’m really happy about it,” Jokic said. “That’s where my thoughts are going. I just want to see my niece for the first time. I think basketball is important but there are a bunch of things more important than basketball. Yes, victory is nice, but I think there are better victories in real life.”

How did we get so lucky?

How?

A player like Jokic is so, so rare in this sport. The only things he cares about are family, horses, and winning basketball games. In that order. By accident, he’s somehow become the best basketball player in the world.

The MVP trophy?

“I think I’ve had a great season, the whole season. Even better than last year,” Jokic said Thursday about potentially winning back-to-back MVP’s. “If that’s enough, it’s enough. If it’s not, you can not control that. If they’re gonna give it to you, they’re gonna give it to you.”

Being regarded as the best player in the NBA?

“I think there are a lot of guys playing at an extremely high level right now in the NBA,” he said. “You can see how talented the league is. There are a bunch, literally like 20 players that can be superstars. I’m just trying to be humble, to stay on the ground.”

“Do I see myself as one of the best? Yes, no. I think to be the best you need to have the better record, to be honest. Do I impact the game? I think I impact the game really well in different ways. I don’t think about that, that I’m one of the best in the league. I’m just trying to win the game. That’s my approach.”

There will never be another like him. So humble. So modest. So respectful to the game. He’s never thrown anyone under the bus. He’s never criticized a teammate. He’s always taken 100% of the blame for the Nuggets’ most consequential losses and deflected all credit to his teammates after Denver’s most monumental wins.

“I know I’m very biased. I admit that wholeheartedly,” Michael Malone said. “The MVP isn’t even a competition.”

Thursday’s triumph over the Grizzlies was one of those special victories. Behind Jokic’s 35 points, 16 rebounds, 6 assists, 4 steals and 1 block, the Nuggets clinched a top-6 seed and a playoff spot for the fourth-consecutive season. The Nuggets also went over the Vegas win total again, something that should have been impossible without Jamal Murray for the entire regular season and Michael Porter Jr. for the last six months.

It’s a tremendous accomplishment that was only made possible by Jokic’s brilliance.

“Would you like it easy at times? I’m sure,” said Malone. “But it makes it that much more gratifying when you can achieve things that no one else is giving you a chance to achieve. Whether it’s being down 3-1 in a playoff series, and to do it two times in a row and go to a Western Conference Finals. To come back last year and win a series without your starting backcourt. To come back this season after everything we’ve been through without two max players and have 48 wins at this point. It’s something we pride ourselves on.”

“When things are looking the most adverse, we come together.”

Jokic’s latest milestone didn’t come easy. He was sitting on 29 points, two away from 2,000 when Malone kept him in the game to start the fourth quarter with the Nuggets leading by 27. The goal was simple, get Jokic two more points and sub him out of the game. But it seemed like Memphis was aware of what was at stake. Maybe the Basketball Gods were as well. The Grizzlies sent double and triple-teams at Jokic whenever he caught the ball. They didn’t want him to get to the 2,000 point mark against them.

He subbed out but then re-entered the game after Memphis made a run midway through the fourth that trimmed the Nuggets’ lead to 18. Eventually, he got that elusive final bucket.

MVP chants rang out and Jokic scored two more baskets for good measure. At the 3:19 mark of the fourth quarter, he left the game for good to a standing ovation. He hugged Malone on the sidelined, then took a seat on the bench. The chants didn’t stop.

“I’m gonna remember that probably my whole life,” Jokic said.

“I just love Nuggets fans. They’re always on my side. I just love how they treat me.”

At the final buzzer, Aaron Gordon ripped the ball away from an official and handed it to a Nuggets staffer. That basketball was going home with Jokic. Eventually, it wound up in the hands of Tim Connelly, the president of basketball operations who drafted Jokic in the second round eight seasons ago and had recently returned from a scouting trip in Spain. He presented it to Jokic outside of the Nuggets’ locker room.

“(Connelly) said he stunk like horses because he was in Europe,” relayed Jokic. “I said, ‘Don’t worry, I’m used to it.'”

The headband that Jokic donned for the first and what he said would be the last time in his career to soak up a gash to the side of his head that he got just over a minute into the first quarter is allegedly in the possession of Felipe Eichenberger, the Nuggets’ strength coach. Jokic joked that Eichenberger is going to sell it on eBay.

“Maybe it’s worth a lot,” Jokic pondered.

The game ball that Gordon grabbed was passed around the Nuggets’ locker room and signed by Jokic’s teammates. Eventually, it will sit in a glass case somewhere inside the Jokic compound.

“I just got people to sign the ball because it’s not just my thing. I think it’s a collective effort,” Jokic said. “I think the team put me as a leader in front of them. So without them, I couldn’t do it.”

The Nuggets have secured a top-6 seed in the West. They’ll avoid the dreaded play-in and head to the playoffs and look to win a first-round series for a fourth-straight season. Will Denver get reinforcements back before the postseason begins in a little over a week?

Maybe.

Jamal Murray continues to ramp up his workouts and he looked especially spry pregame before Nuggets-Grizzlies. He was running, jumping, dunking, and looked confident. We’ll see if he gets back on the floor for Sunday’s regular-season finale, Game 1 of the playoffs, or waits until next season. The ball is entirely in his court. Whenever Murray is ready to return, Denver will usher him back into the lineup.

With or without him, the Nuggets trudge on.

“In the playoffs,” Jokic said. “Anything can happen.”

Author

Harrison Wind is the Denver Nuggets beat reporter for DNVR Nuggets. The University of Colorado alum grew up in Boulder and has covered the Nuggets for the last three seasons. You can hear him every weekday on the DNVR Nuggets podcast. Follow Harrison on Twitter - @HarrisonWind

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