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'The Joker' enjoys last laugh on naysayers

China Daily | Updated: 2021-06-10 09:10
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Denver Nuggets center Nikola Jokic celebrates his team's double-overtime win against the Portland Trail Blazers in Game 5 of their first-round NBA playoff series on June 1. On Tuesday, the Serbian was named the NBA's Most Valuable Player for the 2020-21 season, becoming the first player in franchise history and the first second-round draft pick in league history to earn the honor. [Photo/Agencies]

Serbian big man becomes lowest-ever draft pick to win NBA MVP

Nikola Jokic was selected with the 41st draft pick when he entered the NBA seven years ago.

Now, by overwhelming consensus, he's No 1.

The Nuggets' big man was revealed Tuesday as the NBA's Most Valuable Player for 2020-21, making him by far the lowest draft pick ever to win the award. "The Joker" now has his name etched alongside the greatest players in league history, which surely seemed unlikely when he was that unheralded prospect out of Sombor, Serbia in 2014.

"To be honest, I didn't even think I would be in the NBA," Jokic said. "My goal when I started to play basketball back home, it was playing in Euroleague because that was kind of the closest top league to my country."

He did a little more.

Jokic was the runaway winner, getting 91 of the 101 first-place ballots cast-100 of them from a global panel of sportswriters and broadcasters who cover the league, the other being an aggregate first-place ballot compiled from fan voting.

That fan vote was the outlier: It went to 2011 NBA MVP Derrick Rose of the New York Knicks, the only vote Rose got.

Philadelphia's Joel Embiid was second, Golden State's Stephen Curry was third, 2019 and 2020 MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo of Milwaukee was fourth and Phoenix's Chris Paul was fifth.

"It's a big accomplishment, but it's something that like I said to the guys, it's not just me," Jokic said. "I came here six years ago and I was growing, the organization was growing, the coaching staff was growing, the players next to me were growing.

"I couldn't do it by myself. It's an individual award, but it's the effort of everybody."

The previous record-holders for lowest draft picks who became MVPs were Steve Nash and Antetokounmpo, who were both chosen 15th overall. Antetokounmpo won the MVP award each of the last two seasons.

Greece now cedes the bragging rights to Serbia-the fifth nation outside of the US to claim an MVP, joining Canada (Nash), Greece (Antetokounmpo), Nigeria (Hakeem Olajuwon) and Germany (Dirk Nowitzki).

The news came in a team meeting Tuesday, with NBA commissioner Adam Silver appearing on a video screen to deliver the word.

"First of many," Nuggets coach Michael Malone said. He wore a T-shirt Tuesday night emblazoned with some of the knocks that Jokic has heard over the years, including "Can't Jump", "Flopper" and "Poor Defender".

The back of the shirt told a different story: "MVP. Joke's On You."

After the top five, the rest of the voting was Dallas' Luka Doncic, Portland's Damian Lillard, New York's Julius Randle, Rose, Utah's Rudy Gobert, Washington's Russell Westbrook, Philadelphia's Ben Simmons and, tying for 13th, was the Los Angeles Clippers' Kawhi Leonard, Brooklyn's James Harden and the Lakers' LeBron James.

James got one fifth-place vote-extending his streak to 18 years with at least one vote in the MVP race.

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