This July, Serbian basketball powerhouse Nikola Jokic signed the richest deal in the history of the NBA, when the Denver Nuggets star center agreed a five-year, $264 million supermax contract extension.
As one of the best European player in the league’s history, as well as one who’s in the top ten all-time list of players with the most triple-doubles – including holding the record for the fastest triple-double in the NBA, at just 14 minutes and 33 seconds – Jokic puts his success down to his desire for leadership, with a hint of aggression thrown in for good measure…
**RSNG How has your style, mentality and focus taken you to where you are today?
NIKOLA JOKIC, NBA MVP WINNER** “I try to be a leader for my team and so much of how I play begins with aggression. I’ve always been like that as a player, as a person, even; but a little while ago I learned that wouldn’t be enough by itself.
“I think we are through that era where you can just turn up and let your body control or dominate a game. These days, where sports science is demanding every last percentage more from you, there are even better ways to find that extra edge – for me, it was to chill out, haha!
“People look at the way I play and assume I don’t have a calm mind, or perhaps I haven’t always had a calm mind; yet it has been there and I know I just needed to adapt it more to the playing conditions around me.
“It’s taken a while now but I know that to play your best you need to be in control and relaxed; for yourself and, as a leader of a team. It’s imperative.”
**RSNG What does being a leader mean to you?
NIKOLA JOKIC** “For me it’s about two things – firstly it’s motivating the rest of your team-mates; then it’s about ensuring everyone, collectively, has a focus on doing the right things at the right times.
“When you work those things together the result is very potent. That’s not to say you can always be guaranteed to win – but certainly you can guarantee you are giving yourself the best chance of winning, and that’s all that the team should ever ask of itself.”
The power of a horse is really something to witness up close – it’s inspiring for any sportsman and has inspired me
**RSNG Winning the NBA MVP award must have been an unbelievable feeling?
NIKOLA JOKIC** “Yes, it absolutely was. It’s nice to be getting individual awards, of course and I am proud to have been selected as that player.
“I feel I worked hard for that and it’s nice to get the recognition back. What I will say is that there are so many important people who are behind the scenes helping me to achieve what I have. And in that way I now want to work to help others achieve the same thing.”
**RSNG You have so much love and respect for your family, don’t you?
NIKOLA JOKIC** “I’ve never forgotten where I have come from and I never will. My brothers like basketball and one was very talented but just didn’t like it enough to pursue a career. The other has the strength and the will, but not the talent.
“So, it seems that I have a mixture of both of them and I was the one lucky enough to make the journey to the NBA. We also lived together in Denver, and they would always come along to support me. I would be nothing without them, or my parents.”
RSNG You have some interesting hobbies away from basketball? NIKOLA JOKIC “I really love horses and have my own back home in Serbia. I feel so great when I am around them and they’re not so different to humans, really. They are magnificent beasts, strong, majestic and athletic. The power of a horse is really something to witness up close. It’s inspiring for any sportsman and has inspired me.
“And when I am with them, they always make me feel so calm. In the off-season when I get a chance to go back home, I spend a lot of time with my own racehorse, which is called Dream Catcher.
“I also love the water and I like to swim, and will spend time on boats with my family.”
**RSNG What motivates you in basketball and in your career?
NIKOLA JOKIC** “Funny how it sounds, but losing doesn’t motivate me any more than winning does. I don’t like losing and I will do anything I can to prevent that bad taste that it leaves. Winning is easy to deal with, everyone is happy and sometimes you lose sight of the bigger picture.
“But what defines you is how you deal with all results, because that really sorts out the great from the not so great. Everybody wins, everybody loses.
“The ones who win most are the ones who can get better no matter what the last result was; and when I say better, I mean to figure out why you lost, why you won and how you can improve that next time.”
LeBron: when his team need bringing up, he does it – when he feels that he needs to be critical of someone to get them to achieve their best form, he does it
**RSNG How do you do that, personally?
NIKOLA JOKIC** “I want to be the best version of myself, and if I can do that, the team benefits.
“If all of the players do that, then it goes without saying the team will improve dramatically. And this isn’t me saying that my team-mates need to improve, everyone always needs to improve. You can’t stay at the same level forever and win – being an athlete doesn’t work like that.
“Each week I want to take it up a level from the week before. The off-season is my downtime, but during the season my mindset is that every week I should be climbing to a point of optimum play. I should never peak before those crucial final weeks.”
**RSNG Who do you admire in the NBA at the moment?
NIKOLA JOKIC** “I’d obviously have to say LeBron [James]. He’s one of the greatest players the game has ever seen, but not only that, he is a great leader for his team, and that’s what I admire in him.
“Not only can he get the best out of himself more often than most other players, but he motivates his team-mates. “When his team needs bringing up, he does it. When he feels that he needs to be critical of someone to get them to achieve their best form, he does it. Sometimes you need to be cruel to be kind – different players have different ways of being motivated.
“Some need an arm around the shoulder and a quiet word, some need a kick in the butt to get going, some need to be left to calm down and then spoken to. Everyone is different. And I think LeBron knows each of his team-mates inside out. He knows the approach to take with each; that’s why a captain is so much more important than just being judged on the way he plays on the court.”
WHAT NEXT? For more insights into how a top athlete thinks, read the RSNG interview with Super Bowl hero Aaron Donald.
Photos: Shutterstock/ Rex