Perspective | The NBA has gone global, with Nikola Jokic as its all-world center (2024)

DENVER — At 2:30 a.m. in Serbia, the dream appeared on live television. Nikola Jokic lumbered onto the NBA Finals court one last, victorious time and proceeded to transcend imagination. With a Finals MVP performance to clinch his adopted city’s first championship, Jokic stands now as a phenomenon that many in his hoops-crazed country once thought impossible: the best player in the world.

The screen didn’t lie. His unorthodox greatness was as striking on the Arena Sport broadcast in Serbia as it was on ABC in the United States. Or on networks in China, Finland, France, Italy, Latin America and Spain, all of which were on-site covering a sport whose global popularity keeps multiplying.

As the Denver Nuggets celebrate their confetti-triggering 94-89 win over the Miami Heat in Game 5, the world sees the superstar Jokic has become. The world sees the diversifying virtue of the entire NBA. This is no longer a league that one team, rivalry or nation can own.


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NBA Finals

Nuggets win series, 4-1

Game 1: Denver 104, Miami 93

Brewer: Mesmerizing Nuggets better get used to attention

Game 2: Miami 111, Denver 108

Brewer: Nuggets can put on a show, but Heat can put up a fight

Game 3: Denver 109, Miami 94

Brewer: We knew Jokic and Murray were great. Now they look unstoppable.

Game 4: Denver 108, Miami 95

Brewer: Nuggets have passed all the tests. It’s time to crown them.

Game 5: Denver 94, Miami 89

Brewer: NBA has gone global, with Jokic as its all-world center

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While the United States remains rooted as the preeminent basketball power, the sport now prospers because elite talent sprouts from everywhere. Jokic, a 6-foot-11, 285-pound center, plays like he is from another planet. Maybe his hometown of Sombor, Serbia, once seemed a space shuttle flight away from NBA fame. Not anymore. It’s right here. As the NBA brand swells worldwide, it does not flaunt American dominance and exclusivity. The appeal lies in its accessibility.

Serbia is having a moment with Nikoka Jokic and Novak Djokovic

“To be quite honest, I never thought Serbia or former Yugoslavia would have a player in the Finals with such an important role,” said Nenad Kostic, an Arena Sport announcer who called the games on-site. “This is the first time in our lifetime that we’ve had someone like this. There have been a lot of excellent, unbelievable players from the area, but they were mostly role players, standouts but not the number one guy: Drazen Petrovic, Toni Kukoc, Vlade Divac, Peja Stojakovic. To see Nikola Jokic here on this stage, as a two-time MVP, it is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

“We watch and think: ‘When did he get 20 rebounds? How is this even possible?’ ”


NBA globalization is most dramatic at the top of the league, and because individual stars hold disproportionate influence in basketball, the impact will be tremendous. It seems international players have overtaken the league, even though the demographics indicate steady growth. But the three players accounting for the past five MVPs didn’t grow up in America. Giannis Antetokounmpo, the Greek-Nigerian forward who unleashes a bundle of athleticism and force every possession, started the streak with back-to-back awards in 2019 and 2020. Then Jokic won the next two seasons. Joel Embiid, the polished and amusing two-way marvel from Cameroon, is now the reigning MVP.

But they aren’t just owning the regular season. Teams led by international stars have won two of the past three championships. In 2021, the Greek Freak led Milwaukee to its first NBA title in 50 years, and the Bucks have been consistent, high-level contenders for the past five seasons. The Nuggets hadn’t advanced to the Finals before Jokic, with Canadian point guard Jamal Murray as his co-star, propelled a Denver team that should contend for a long time, too.

Beyond their appeal to a global audience, Antetokounmpo and Jokic have helped two forgotten American markets find relevance. And they don’t seem like the types to be easily seduced by the prospect of playing in larger cities, either. It’s another way to look at growth.


Jokic belongs to Denver. He belongs to Serbia. He belongs to the world.

It’s so much attention he probably wants to hide behind a tree. He can’t, though. He’s too big.

“The job is done,” Jokic told ESPN on the court shortly after the triumph. “We can go home now.”

You have to wonder if he’ll show up to the parade. When told afterward it was planned for Thursday, he insisted he needs to go home. To Serbia. He is the most circ*mspect celebrity in sports, and his unpretentious manner is now a covetable standard.

Jokic brings fresh flavor to stardom. The champagne-guzzling champ apologized for burping during a postgame news conference. He looked at his phone, exclaimed “Oh f---!” upon seeing all the text messages and declared he was going to turn it off. Give him a break. After averaging more than 30 points, 14 rebounds and seven assists in the Finals, he deserves one.

The sublime brilliance of Nikola Jokic

The rise in international franchise players is both random and intentional. No one saw Jokic, the No. 41 pick in the 2014 draft, coming. Antetokounmpo, who was drafted 15th the year before, was a 190-pound string bean as a 19-year-old. Their development is mostly a credit to their desire. But the mission to seek talent across the globe has been a diligent NBA pursuit for more than three decades. And it started with a commitment to introduce the game worldwide, an effort that has only grown stronger over the years.


The NBA says during these Finals it has connected with fans in 214 countries and territories. The league and its worldwide media partners have been able to deliver games in 60 languages on television, computers and mobile devices. In addition, it has helped organize watch parties in countries spanning six continents.

In America, we looked at this matchup between the Nuggets and Miami Heat and wondered whether TV ratings would suffer because the matchup didn’t seem captivating enough. But the NBA has a broader view, and when considering the world, growth is not a concern. The league is busy activating markets eager to be activated.

“What we see is a lot of opportunity ahead of us,” said Matt Brabants, an NBA senior vice president and the head of international content partnerships. “We think, in some respects, we’ve just scratched the surface.”


With all of the international MVPs and championship influencers, with French phenom Victor Wembanyama highlighting the draft in less than two weeks, it looks like a golden age for players born outside the United States. The NBA doesn’t think so.

“If you’re talking about a golden age in terms of a high point, no,” Brabants said. “I think we still have heights to scale. We don’t, in the media space, take credit for international players who are transcendent. But we are proud of the fact that kids grew up watching and believing in what’s possible.”

Kostic and his television partner, Edin Avdic, have broadcast three straight Finals for Arena Sport. They remember vividly their first NBA Finals experience growing up in 1988 when the Los Angeles Lakers beat the Detroit Pistons in seven games. They were hooked. What’s crazy is that Finals also hooked me as a child.


“It was harder to follow then, but I loved it,” Kostic said. “I remember renting videotapes of NBA games. The video quality was poor, like it had been recorded over something else, but it was wonderful.”

Said Avdic: “I can’t remember how many times I watched the 1992 All-Star Game when Magic [Johnson] came back.”

Me, too.

“Basketball is a matter of national pride,” Kostic said of Serbia.

Finally, after producing so many high-caliber players, Serbia has witnessed The One. Jokic, as low-key as he is dominant, would be happy looking after his horses in Sombor. But he fell in love with basketball.

He had to find his way to the NBA.

The NBA had to find its way to him.

The dream is mutual.

Perspective | The NBA has gone global, with Nikola Jokic as its all-world center (2024)


Who is the 2024 MVP NBA? ›

Nuggets star Nikola Jokic wins 2024 NBA MVP award, his third in the last four seasons. The Serbian big man averaged 26.4 points, 12.4 rebounds and 9 assists a game this year. Denver Nuggets star Nikola Jokic was named the NBA's Most Valuable Player on Wednesday.

What league did Nikola Jokic play for? ›

Denver Nuggets superstar Nikola Jokic continued to add to his legacy as one of the best NBA players ever by winning his third Most Valuable Player trophy on Wednesday. Jokic earned the award for the third time in four seasons, succeeding last season's MVP, Philadelphia 76ers center Joel Embiid.

Where did Jokic play before Nuggets? ›

Jokić spent his first season in Belgrade primarily playing for Mega Basket's junior team and was named the junior league's MVP. He moved on to the senior team the following year and showed enough promise that the Nuggets drafted him in the second round (41st overall selection) of the 2014 NBA draft.

Who will win the most improved player in NBA 2024? ›

Tyrese Maxey is the NBA's 2024 Most Improved Player. The honor was announced on Tuesday's NBA on TNT pregame show. Maxey wins this award over Chicago's Coby White and Houston's Alperen Sengun, both of whom had excellent seasons respectively.

Who will win the rookie of the year in NBA 2024? ›

To no one's surprise, Victor Wembanyama was named the 2024 NBA Rookie of the Year, becoming the sixth player to win the award in unanimous fashion. Coming in second was former Gonzaga men's basketball star Chet Holmgren, who earned 98 of the 99 second-place votes.

Who is the NBA MVP this year? ›

Nikola Jokic has won the 2023-24 NBA Most Valuable Player award, the league announced Wednesday night. Jokic has now won the award in three of the past four seasons, making him the first player to do since LeBron James.

Is Nikola Jokic sponsored? ›

It was revealed today that Nikola Jokic has signed a multi-year deal with the Chinese signature shoe brand 361. He'll be a leading global face of the brand and will be joining Aaron Gordon in the shoe company.

How many languages does Nikola Jokic speak? ›

As a native of Serbia, he primarily speaks Serbian, which is the official language of Serbia. However, due to his international basketball career and interactions with teammates and coaches from different countries, Jokić has also become proficient in English, the global language of basketball.

How big is Jokic? ›

As for his height, weight, and wingspan, here are the details: Height: 7 feet (2.13 meters) Weight: 284 pounds (129 kilograms) Wingspan: 7 feet, 3 inches (2.21 meters)

Who is the tallest NBA player? ›

The tallest NBA player ever is Gheorghe Mureșan, standing at an imposing height of 7 feet 7 inches (231 cm). Born in Romania, Mureșan played in the NBA from 1993 to 2000, primarily with the Washington Bullets/Wizards and the New Jersey Nets.

Who will win the MVP NBA? ›

Gilgeous-Alexander and Doncic round out top 3. Nikola Jokic did it all again. And the MVP trophy is his again.

Who will win the DPOY NBA 2024? ›

Joakim Noah became the first Frenchman to win DPOY when he was the overwhelming choice in 2014, and Gobert now has the trophies for 2018, 2019, 2021 and 2024.

Who picks NBA MVP? ›

(The panel of reporters and broadcasters who vote on awards rank their top five MVP choices on their ballots.) He is the only player in NBA history to appear in the MVP results in 19 different seasons.

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