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The Joker is the Hero the NBA deserves

Mike Olson Avatar
March 1, 2024

“Because he’s the hero Gotham deserves, but not the one it needs right now. So we’ll hunt him. Because he can take it. Because he’s not our hero. He’s a silent guardian, a watchful protector. A dark knight.”

– Jonathan Nolan, The Dark Knight

It would figure that the appropriate quote would be about a Batman, when the hero basketball really ended up deserving was a Joker.

One of the many constants running through a regular “Nikola Jokic” news search is how begrudging his flowers often are from other players, especially current ones. While Jokic has his glowing admirers amongst players new (Luka Doncic, Draymond Green) and recent (Tracy McGrady, J.J. Reddick), they are more the aberration than the rule. More often than not, when the rest of the league’s elite that surround him discuss Jokic, the comments often start with things like…

“for a guy so unathletic…”, or…
“of course he doesn’t surprise me…”, or…
“couldn’t jump over a piece of paper…”

You get the gist. There’s often a qualifier when discussing his capabilites or level of respect amongst his peers, even though there’s a lot more than advanced statistics telling the epic of Jokic these days. As much as it can be hard to drag the truth out of some guys, it’s telling how painful it can be for them to say… watch McGrady try and pin Kevin Garnett down on the topic of Joker as the NBA’s best today…

As painful as it obviously is for so many of them to say it, when pressed, they all have to agree… Joker is simply leaving little doubt who the best player in the league is right now. After the game, even the national postgame crew said something to the effect of Jokic being the league’s best example to kids of how to play the game the right way… even mentioning how unpopular an opinion that is.

At the recent All Star weekend, several of the game’s biggest stars – LeBron James, Steph Curry, Kevin Durant, even Commissioner Adam Silver – were asked as they enter their “golden years” who the next face of the league will be. While several names were bandied about, the league’s current championship MVP did not seem ever to gain mention.

The lack of recognition has become par for the course, and is understandable for a dozen reasons, not the least of which is Jokic’s active desire to stay under the radar on what has been on of the league’s least-marketed teams. When it’s a challenge to watch the brightest star in your city in half the homes in the market, and then he’s shy to boot, it’s a wonder his name ends up in the conversation at all. The current of conversation that should often carry Jokic so cleanly to the head of these outcomes has instead become something weirdly more powerful. The constant uphill fight of it all has created an undercurrent of Jokic support that swells from far outside the Denver area.

Suddenly, it borders on countercultural to be a Nikola Jokic fan in today’s NBA. The guys who have been shouting his name for years now (koff, Mares) find themselves on top of a groundswell that’s had so long to gain power that it’s suddenly turning into something a bit more countercultural. Suddenly being on Team Joker has a bit of a Guy Fawkes ring to it, as if you’ve taken the time to “get it”, then… well, IYKYK.

It’s an interesting era, when the league’s best player doesn’t want the spotlight, but may be everything the Association wants to embody. Nikola Jokic may not be the NBA’s poster child, but a lot of people in the know sure have him up on a pedestal, and the number grows by leaps and bounds every day. Hell, even basketball’s greatest curmudgeon, Larry Bird, wishes he’d played against him. The Joker may not be the hero the league wants or needs. But thank goodness he’s the hero that basketball fans all deserve.


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