When we last saw Billy Hoyle in 1992, he was dealing with his girlfriend Gloria leaving him after successfully teaming up with his friend Sidney Deane to beat two playground legends.
For those of you who don’t know Billy Hoyle, he was an unassuming Caucasian man, once dubbed a chump by Deane, who assumingly had very little basketball talent and even less ability to elevate for a dunk. However Hoyle quickly proved to everyone that he could not only shoot the rock, but he could handle the ball with flavor, dish out dimes, and occasionally get up to throw it down.
Three years later, Nikola Jokic was born.
Now it’s fair to say that Billy Hoyle and Gloria did not reunite and give birth to a 6’11” 284-pound Serbian, but when you look at Denver Nuggets big man Nikola Jokic, one cannot help but wonder if just maybe the two are related. Both are relatively slow, and appear unathletic and struggle to elevate, but yet can shoot with range, dribble like guards and pass as if they were Magic Johnson. Oh, and did we mention they carried their team to victory?
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Who Is Nikola Jokic?
Growing up in Sombor, Serbia, Jokic shared a two-bedroom apartment with his parents, two brothers, and their grandmother. As a young athlete, Jokic would play for KK Mega Bemax, competing in the Serbian League and Adriatic League as he grew older and more experienced.
As part of the 2014 NBA Draft, the Denver Nuggets would take a chance on the Serbian big man with a mid-second-round pick (41st overall). At a time in which traditional centers had started to phase out of the NBA, Jokic would be the fourth center drafted, behind Joel Embiid (3rd), future teammate Jusuf Nurkic (16th), and Clint Capela (25th). Despite his MVP-level play, NBA scouts felt forty better players were on the board. Chances are a number of these scouts have lost their jobs.
After remaining overseas for a year following his draft day, Jokic would make his NBA debut in 2015. As a twenty-year-old rookie, Jokic would suit up for 80 games in his first season, starting 55 and averaging 10 points, 7 rebounds, 2.4 assists, and a shade under twenty-two minutes of floor time for a Nuggets team that finished tenth in the Western Conference with a 33-49 record.
Jokic’s rookie season success would force the Nuggets’ front office into having to make a decision involving their two young and talented big men, Jokic, and a second-year center out of Bosnia, Jusuf Nurkic. At a time when playing two unathletic bigs on the floor at the same time was almost unheard of, the Nuggets would pair Jokic and Nurkic for nearly fifteen minutes a night. While this would result in some offensive success, it would hamper their spacing and cause the team to struggle on defense. On February 13, 2017, the Nuggets would ship Nurkic to Portland for Mason Plumlee, cash, and a future second-rounder.
While both European big men were obviously talented, there were only so many minutes to spread around and when Nurkic asked for a trade in December 2016, the team would grant his wish, giving Jokic the time and touches needed to show his true value on the court.
Nikola Jokic and Jamal Murray each score 30+ PTS in Game 3, becoming the 8th duo with 3 or more such games in a single Playoffs, joining:
Durant/Booker (2023) pic.twitter.com/QupCBKtTsl
— NBA.com/Stats (@nbastats) June 8, 2023
Teaming Up With Murray
With his place on the Nuggets roster firmly locked down, Jokic, with the help of Jamal Murray, would set about transforming the team into a Western Conference contender. By his fourth season, “The Joker” evolved into an All-NBA and All-Star level player, and coincidently the Nuggets would reach the playoffs for the first time since the 2012-2013 season.
Over the past five years, the Nuggets have finished no worse than second in their division during the regular season and have won no less than 46 games. However, when it comes to the playoffs, the team, up until this season has yet to get over the hump and advance to the NBA Finals. Despite having the back-to-back MVP on their roster, the Nuggets bowed out of the Western Conference playoffs rather early, (WC Semi-finals and 1st round). While Jokic did what he could averaging 31/13/9 in 2022 and 30/11/5 the year before, both teams were dealing with injuries to key players.
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"We're running out of things to say."
— NBA (@NBA) June 8, 2023
This season, Jokic, who could have (and arguably should have) been a threepeat MVP, has averaged a triple-double (30/12/10) over the Nuggets’ pursuit of the Larry O’Brien trophy. In fact, Jokic broke Wilt Chamberlain’s 56-year-old record of seven triple-doubles in a single playoff run in Game 4 of the Lakers series and has since added to it with two more in the Finals series with the Miami Heat with the opportunity to add at least four more.
Fans and experts have all but awarded the Nuggets their first NBA Championship in franchise history and will no doubt honor Jokic with the Bill Russell Playoff MVP. Considering that it was less than a decade ago that Jokic was an overweight teen drafted in the second round to now being considered one of, if not, the best player in the world, his tale is truly a rags-to-riches story.
And as with Billy Hoyle, Nikola Jokic is truly a one-of-a-kind basketball player, one that we likely will never see again (yes, here’s looking at you Jeremy with no last name!).
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"He has a nice house!"
— NBA (@NBA) June 8, 2023