Day 2 in Serbia was…

Unforgettable. Incomparable. Life-changing. It’s difficult to describe what happened here in Belgrade Saturday night. Whatever I say won’t do it justice.

We held a meet-up at a local Belgrade bar (Kafana Mali Kalemegdan) to watch the Serbia-Germany friendly with DNVR and Nuggets fans. It rained for a lot of Saturday and we didn’t know how many people would show. But then we walked up the hill and saw the crowd out front. Then someone yelled out ‘Mile High City, Baby!’ We knew we were in for a hell of a night from that point forward.

The next five (or six, or seven, who really knows) hours were incredible. It’s rare to feel such a close connection to so many different people, from every background, from every upbringing, from every walk of life, all at once. But that’s what we had. There was a special bond between everyone at the Kafana last night. People I had never met were all of a sudden like family. We talked, laughed, hugged and drank like we were brothers all night long.

It’s crazy how not just one sport or one team but one player can unite a group from Denver with one from Serbia — halfway across the globe. That’s the power of Nikola Jokic. We’re all in Serbia because of him. We want to understand him and Serbian basketball better by immersing ourselves in this culture. Last night at the Kafana, surrounded by everyone, I really started to uncover what we came here to find. While we’re so eager to learn about this country and its culture, Serbian people are just as eager to share. It’s much appreciated by our DNVR group.

This is such a proud nation. Serbians are so proud of who they are as a people, what they’ve overcome, and what they’ve been through. It shapes them to this day. They’re strong-willed and confident. They’re serious and get to the point quickly. They don’t bullshit you. They just give it to you straight, although I’m pretty sure someone very seriously last night told me Serbia is actually responsible for discovering the United States.

I met people who came from different countries to be at the meet-up. Someone drove 10+ hours to retrieve a special brand of Rakija and bring it to us last night. Man, it’s a special feeling when there’s that sort of love in a room. It’s the type of environment that you never want to leave. It’s the type of night that you never want to end. It will probably be the highlight of the trip, and I can say that after being here for 48 hours.

I’m so impressed with the basketball knowledge of this country. So many people that I talked with last night had smart basketball takes about the Nuggets. I always heard how this is a nation that lives and breathes the sport, and that’s absolutely a fact after being here for two days. And the connection they had to DNVR was so meaningful.

These are Nuggets fans who either stay up or wake up at 3 am to watch Nuggets games and then stay up for another five hours to watch the full DNVR postgame show. Many of the fans we met last night don’t miss a single game or show. I had so many people last night recall specific segments or moments from postgame shows over the years. Last night, someone complimented me on a take I had about Gary Harris from a 2019 episode.

By the way, Serbia beat Germany and Jokic scored 22 points (10-11 shooting) in just 17 minutes.

And that came after the — and this isn’t an exaggeration, this isn’t hyperbole — the best meal of my life.

We got connected with the good people of Ambar, a Balkan-style first-of-its-kind restaurant in Belgrade, by Tim Connelly. It was an incredible experience. As our host Marko, who’s another absolutely legendary character that we’ve met on this trip, explained to us, Serbian cuisine is typically very traditional. I’m talking big portions and everyone gets their own meal. But Ambar is the first Balkan restaurant to go the small-plate route where sharing is encouraged. Marko says that at first, Serbian people were hesitant to embrace the concept but now are growing more comfortable with it.

First, we started with a Rakija tasting and sampled three types of Rakija, plum, apricot and quince. Contrary to how we tend to down Rakija on our postgame show, it’s a sipping drink. We also learned that you’re supposed to drink Rakija out of a Chokanche, it’s a tall, skinny glass and not a shot glass.

Then, the food. We were treated to what I think was probably a seven-course feast. The food just kept coming. We started with meats and cheeses, Serbian cornbread, and too many types of spreads to count. Salads and dishes featuring pork, sausage, beef, pasta, and potatoes then followed.

I felt something new and different during that meal. Everything that came out of Ambar’s kitchen was so good and so unique that there was this level of anticipation ahead of every new dish that I hadn’t felt before. The excitement about the taste I was about to have from a dish I had never tried before was such an incredibly cool feeling. And every single time, what I ate did not disappoint in the slightest.

It was a special experience. Marko walked us through every dish and gave us the backstory on everything we ate. It was a history lesson crossed with a culinary class. I really feel like I understand this culture and Serbian people more after learning about their food.

The dinner at Ambar and our meet-up at the Kafana capped an all-time day, one that actually started in a podcast studio. Infinity Lighthouse welcomed us into their building to film and record an episode of the DNVR Nuggets Podcast. On the show, we were joined by Srdjan Radojevic, who someone we’re close with called the Zach Lowe of Serbia. We talked Jokic, the Nuggets next season and European history, history. Srjdan has a great perspective. He’s a walking encyclopedia of Serbian hoops.

It was an unforgettable day. If we can top it while we’re on this trip I’d be blown away. But you never know. As I’m writing this, we’re on the road to Sombor. More to come tomorrow.

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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