DENVER: Congratulations, Serbia. You're about to have another NBA champion. His name is Nikola.
The last name is TBA (to be announced).
Denver has two-time MVP Nikola Jokic. Miami has rookie Nikola Jovic. They met earlier this season for the first time to have dinner and get to know each other a little bit — Jokic knew about Jovic before they met — and now they're on opposite sides of the NBA Finals which begins on Friday (Manila time).
“He was playing in the same team that I played back in Serbia,” Jokic said. “One of his coaches was my godfather who worked there. He told me, I think a year before, he's going to get drafted and that he's actually a really good player, really good person, that he's really working hard, can have a talent to be NBA player.”
Jovic, who turns 20 on June 9, has largely spent the year in the Heat player development program, adding strength and learning the NBA game. He says Jokic represents what young Serbian players are trying to become.
“He's a great person, a great player and we're proud of him,” Jovic said.
Other NBA champions who hail from Serbia include Darko Milicic, Peja Stojakovic, Ognjen Kuzmic and Nemanja Bjelica.
NBA Finals games won't start until 2:30 a.m. in Serbia, but that nation is one of the 200 or so where the series will be broadcast. The finals will be shown by Serbian network Arena Sport 1, which has 1.1 million subscribers — a number that represents roughly 15% of Serbia's population.
Heat coach Erik Spoelstra is changing the affinity of lifelong Denver Nuggets fans.
Well, one, anyway.
Miami Dolphins coach Mike McDaniel — born and raised in Denver — knows the city and the Nuggets have waited 47 years for an NBA title. He's been a fan for as long as he can remember, even convincing his mother to spend her entire bonus on a specific ticket plan in 1994 just so he could watch Michael Jordan go to Denver. (Problem was, Jordan retired that season, so McDaniel was a bit disappointed.)
“I don't lose any sleep by saying, 'You know what? Denver Nuggets, why don't we wait 48 years, not 47,'” McDaniel said Thursday. “I think it's really cool. It is odd that the two teams you probably follow as close as anything, you're rooting for one and somebody has to lose.”
McDaniel has been a courtside regular at Heat games in this postseason and has struck up a friendship with Spoelstra — even having some long postgame chats with the Heat coach.
“I feel so humbled to be able to have the relationship,” McDaniel said.
According to FanDuel Sportsbook, the Nuggets are huge favorites to win the NBA title.
A $100 wager on the Nuggets to win the series — made Wednesday — would net a bettor about $21 in profit. In horse racing, that would be roughly the equivalent of 1-5 odds.
A $100 wager on the Heat would return $350.
Denver's Jamal Murray was harassed in his NBA Finals media day news conference by a reporter.
Thing is, the instigator wasn't really a reporter. It wasn't really harassment, either.
Indiana's Bennedict Mathurin is one of four players who will serve as NBA Finals media correspondents during the Denver-Miami series. Orlando's Paolo Banchero, Utah's Walker Kessler and Oklahoma City's Jalen Williams are the others.
Mathurin — wearing a vintage Pacers Jermaine O'Neal jersey — asked Murray, his fellow Canadian, about a 1-on-1 game they played a few years back at a Basketball Without Borders camp in Colombia. Let's just say they remember certain details about that game differently.
“I was coaching him up. He was really athletic, as he is now, jumping over everybody,” Murray said. “Couldn't shoot as well as he could now. Developed his game a little bit. Matured so much. So proud of him as a fellow Canadian.”
As Mathurin pressed Murray for details about this 1-on-1 game, Murray eventually — though playfully — made clear he had enough.
“Next question,” he said.
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