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NBA Finals wraps up with Nuggets win, Nikola Jokic rise as a all-time great

Nikola Jokic (15) of the Denver Nuggets shoots the ball against Bam Adebayo (13) of the Miami Heat during the fourth quarter in Game Five of the 2023 NBA Finals at Ball Arena on June 12, 2023, in Denver, Colorado. (Matthew Stockman/Getty Images/TNS)

With 82 regular season games and 20 playoff games in the books, the NBA season is over and we have a new NBA champion of the world, the Nikola Jokic led Denver Nuggets, the once obscure Northwest team has finally overcome it all and won their first championship since joining the league in 1976 after defeating the Cinderella story Miami Heat.

The Denver Nuggets have an interesting connection to Grand Rapids as their G-League affiliate team, the Grand Rapids Gold, plays at Van Andel Arena.

How did the Denver Nuggets get here? They were one of six NBA teams to never even be in an NBA Finals. It seemed that the Nuggets would never win an NBA championship based on their franchise history, it especially seemed improbable just five years ago. Let’s do a little bit of a rewind into the history of the Denver Nuggets.

The Nuggets, who were a part of the American Basketball Association (ABA), were one of the four teams to be brought into the NBA in 1976 after they merged with the ABA. They already had a young star in high flyer David Thompson who seemed ready to lead the Nuggets into NBA relevance.

Unfortunately, Thompson ended up being apart of the “what ifs” as drugs and injuries derailed his NBA career and thus left the Nuggets without a star, but they rebounded quickly as they installed an insane offensive scheme with newly acquired star, Alex English, who would actually lead the Nuggets to the conference finals against the Lakers in 1985, but that was the farthest they would get for the next 24 years.

After Alex English left, the Nuggets once again had no star or path forward as they floundered in the early ‘90s, even setting an embarrassing record in 1991 allowing opponents to score 130.8 points a game. All seemed lost for the team until they landed a different type of star.

Dikembe Mutumbo, the 7-foot-2 center from Congo, immediately changed the Denver Nuggets with his defense and signature finger wag after blocking a shot and is mostly known for leading the Nuggets to an upset victory over the Seattle SuperSonics in 1994, becoming the first eighth seeded team to beat a first seed.

It was all short lived, however, as Mutumbo eventually left the Nuggets and the team was mostly known for failed draft picks and being a bottom feeder as they failed to have a winning record from 1996 to 2003 when they once again got an exciting new player.

Carmelo Anthony, a high-volume scorer who had just come off winning a title with Syracuse, once again jolted the Nuggets as they made the playoffs every single year he was on the team, but in came a new problem. 

Despite being a successful team that was winning games from 2004-2010, the Nuggets only got out of the first round once in 2009, losing to the Kobe and Pau Los Angeles Lakers in six games in the conference finals. Once again, the Nuggets were in the middle of the pack, which got even worse as they traded their star Carmelo Anthony and acquired several good, but not great players.

After 2013, the Nuggets again entered irrelevance as they didn’t make the playoffs until 2019, but in the middle of that period, an unlikely hero emerged from the shadows and changed the game forever.

Nikola Jokic, the big and lumbering center from Serbia, was drafted in the second round in 2015 during a Taco Bell commercial. Not much was known or discussed about Jokic and that was probably how he preferred it, as the Nuggets continued to build their championship team, they also drafted Jamal Murray in 2017, drafted Michael Porter Jr. in 2018 and traded for Aaron Gordon in 2021.

Finally, after years of being nothing more than a middle of the pack team, on the back of Jokic averaging an insane 30.2 PPG, 14.0 RPG, and 7.2 APG, the Nuggets joined NBA lore with a championship.

For  Jokic, he has officially become an all-time great, a once in a generation type of player, who the NBA has never quite seen before. Now, there have been hints of a player like Jokic before, players such as Bill Walton, Arvydas Sabonis, Pau Gasol, and Brad Miller. Jokic has surpassed all those players by a wide margin and he did it all without a care in the world.

Jokic has had an interesting journey as an NBA player. He rose slowly to an NBA All-Star as a second round pick, then became one of the best players in the league, to then becoming a back-to-back MVP, before finally winning the big one and becoming finals MVP.

After winning the title, Jokic congratulated every single player on the Heat before celebrating his win, when asked about how he felt winning a championship, he said he wanted the media to focus on the team, not just him, and when he found out that there was a parade to celebrate the win, he was annoyed because he just wanted to go home.

Never has the NBA seen a player with the mentality like Jokic since Tim Duncan and like Duncan, Jokic and the Denver Nuggets can win many more championships.

The Nuggets walk into next year as favorites to do it all again, but right now the city of Denver is celebrating their first NBA championship, and I am simply in awe of Nikola Jokic, who has achieved all-time great status.

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