Nikola JokicAAron Ontiveroz/The Denver Post
DENVER — Nikola Jokić checked the last box.
Following a grueling, 94-89 victory in Game 5 over the Miami Heat, the onslaught of legacy-related questions, hot takes and pot shots aimed at him for much of the last three years has been shut off.
Jokić is an NBA champion and Finals MVP.
He’s now on an exclusive list of players who’ve secured two regular-season MVPs and at least one in the Finals:
Jokić, Tim Duncan, Stephen Curry, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Moses Malone, Magic Johnson, Larry Bird, LeBron James, Wilt Chamberlain, Michael Jordan and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.
If you weren’t counting, that’s 11 names. Eleven of the greatest players in the history of basketball. And yes, it’s time to include Jokić among those luminaries.
Jokić just capped off, without question, one of the greatest individual postseason runs in league history.
In 20 games, Denver went 16-4 and Jokić tallied 600 points, 269 rebounds and 190 assists. Jokić led the postseason in all three categories. No one has ever done that before. If you count the BAA years, this league has been around since 1946. Wilt had 13 playoff runs. MJ and LeBron had 13 and 16, respectively.
They never did what Jokić just did. No one has.
For a couple years, the saying around Denver when Jokić posted some ludicrous stat line (or series of stat lines) was “Not Since Wilt.”
Lately, that’s morphed into “Not Even Wilt.”
First 30-20-10 game in NBA Finals History. Not even Wilt. pic.twitter.com/37ZSKvmZzq
In that way, the playoffs (and really this entire three-year run) is more of a legacy-maker than a legacy-saver.
“I don’t think you can put it into context,” Michael Porter Jr. said when asked about this postseason from Jokić. “He does so many things for our team. I don’t think people understand how good of a basketball player he is.”
They do now. Or at least they should.
For most of the two seasons in which Jokić won his regular season MVPs, the default answer for the “best player in the world” conversation seemed to be Giannis Antetokounmpo. There were a few Kevin Durant or LeBron James holdouts. Some vocal fans and analysts even pushed 2022-23 MVP Joel Embiid there. The Jokić contingent was small.
Throughout this postseason, you could sort of feel that tide turning.
Jokić’s spot atop the mountain is borderline indisputable now.
Not only is he the Finals MVP, he’s the leader (in a landslide) in box plus/minus since the start of the 2020-21 season (playoffs included).
(BPM “is a basketball box score-based metric that estimates a basketball player’s contribution to the team when that player is on the court.”)
He’s hit 63.0 percent of his two-pointers, 37.3 percent of his threes and 83.0 percent of his free throws.
In statistical terms, no one’s close. And now the argument goes far beyond the numbers.
“This was a historic run,” MPJ said after Game 5. “I don’t know how you can say he’s not the best big man ever.”
“We’ve seen a point power forward,” Aaron Gordon added. “We’ve never seen a point center before. So he’s the first.”
“He’s the Finals MVP, and deservedly so,” Jamal Murray said. “He makes everybody connect.”
Jamal Murray, Nikola JokicAAron Ontiveroz/The Denver Post
This is a genuinely unique player we’re witnessing, who’s clearly demonstrated that he puts team in front of individual accomplishments. His teammates have fed off that energy and approach, to the point they’ve won a championship together.
When asked which teammates he was happy to see win it all, he rattled off almost every name from the roster.
“All of them,” Jokić said. “Literally every player.”
Joe Murphy/NBAE via Getty Images
You can be sure that same attitude will permeate the Nuggets next season, because Jokić will be on the roster. He hasn’t given any indication that he wants to (or will) play any other way.
And that should keep Denver in the title contenders’ tier for the foreseeable future. On the podium, Michael Malone said they weren’t satisfied with one championship. He wants more.
Whether he wins more championships or not, Jokić did something on Monday that made his legacy ironclad. In a Game 5 in which his teammates shot 26-of-68 (38.2 percent) from the field, Jokić was 12-of-16 for 28 points, with 16 rebounds and four assists. He was a team-high plus-12.
And he validated three years of NBA domination, proving on the basketball world’s biggest stage that you can win it all in his uniquely unselfish way.