For years, we’ve heard stories about Sombor. To us, it’s a faraway land that has this fairytale essence to it. It has always seemed like a magical place. KK Joker, the local basketball club that Nikola Jokic played for way back when, Jokic’s former school and the concrete court he grew up playing on, the Sombor horse stables and race track are all there. We knew these places existed, but we never knew if we’d actually be able to feel them for real.
We arrived in Sombor Sunday afternoon and met up with Jokic’s first coach, Srdjan Stojkov, at KK Joker. Srdjan gave us a behind-the-scenes tour of the entire facility, the team’s locker room and offices, and let us into the gym. It was an awesome experience. Mostonga Hall, the KK Joker facility, is old and was built in 1971. Certain parts of it look very old school while some of it has been re-done.
Once you walk through the doors, dim lighting and a pink brick hallway lead to a sparkling court that has seating for 1,000 fans. We were told that Jokic and his family help run the team and have invested heavily in the facility. They’ve also recently upgraded the court to the standards that are needed to play in Serbia’s top division (KK Joker currently plays in the second division.) Branislav Jokic, Nikola’s father, is the president. The locker rooms and offices have been recently re-done too. Srdjan shared stories about Jokic that he remembers from coaching him and we got to shoot around on the court. It was special.
We then drove with Srdjan to the stables. Yes, Dream Catcher Stables. Surreal doesn’t even begin to describe how it felt to be there. It felt too perfect, like almost fake. But the funny thing is it’s exactly how you’d picture it. The dogs — the same ones that interrupted his MVP interview on TNT — are still barking. The chair and table that he used during that interview are still there, just off to the side against the wall where they’ve probably been for years. The race track is exactly how you’d picture it too. It sits just off the street and behind the stables and a white gate. There’s a small grandstand on one side, and that’s it. Again, it’s perfect. It’s simple, authentic, quiet, tranquill and peaceful. Just perfect.
Next, Jokic’s old school and its basketball court. It was also so perfect that it didn’t feel real. The mural pops more than I expected in person. Surrounded by neutral colors and lush green trees, it stands out, as it should. We played on the court for an hour or so. It just felt so special being there. Walking in the footsteps of the greatest player in the world. Playing on the same concrete that he once played on. Like I’ve said, surreal.
Then, dinner at Restoran Slon Sombor (Elephant Restaurant). Allegedly, it’s a spot Jokic frequents. We had fish stew, Jokic’s favorite, and other traditional Serbian dishes plus plenty of Jelen beer, the most popular beer in Serbia. We reminisced on an incredible day. An unbelievable day. A day we’ll be talking about forever. Also joining us at dinner was Srdjan Vlaskalic, our tour guide in Sombor. I’ll talk more about him tomorrow.
This trip has been a whirlwind. It’s been a blur. We’ve done so much in such a short amount of time. But I’ve always been able to feel incredibly present throughout our days here. Maybe it’s because every individual moment has felt so significant. It’s impossible to not be in the moment while experiencing this far away land. KK Joker, the horse track, the mural and Sombor have been such powerful places to visit.
One final note: We stayed overnight at a place in Sombor called The Old Brick Pub. It’s a bar with dorm-style rooms above it. Yes, we slept above a bar. Also, Shoutout to Miroslav Cuk and Milan Mijalkovic from Serbian Corner and the Nuggets Serbia Podcast who have been lifesavers and with us every step of the way and drove us up to Sombor. The nine of us sitting in a circle outside of the Old Brick at 1 am passing around a bottle of Rakija and reminiscing about what we had just experienced in Sombor is another flashbulb memory that will stick forever.
What a day. More from Sombor tomorrow.