By Ken Reed

After 47 years in the NBA, and another nine in the old ABA, the Denver Nuggets finally have their first pro basketball championship.

But what is more impressive than the fact they won the title is how they did it.

The Nuggets are led by Nikola Jokic, a two-time league MVP and now the NBA Finals MVP. He is quite possibly the most unselfish superstar we’ve seen in American sports in a long time. He has tamed his ego and consistently puts “we” above “me.” He is uncomfortable with media attention and could care less about his impressive stats and trophy collection. He just wants to win. Together. As a true team.

“He’s never changed with all the success, and he never will,” said Nuggets coach Michael Malone after the title-clinching win.

“It’s just not in his nature. It’s great to be part of such a historically great player who’s an even better person, and I mean that sincerely. This is not coach-talk. Nikola is just a great, great man.”

But as great as Jokic is, and as unselfish as he is, he’s not alone on this Nuggets team when it comes to putting team first. Every player on this year’s squad put his ego in the background for the good of the team. Family is an overused cliche in sports but it seems to fit these guys perfectly.

The Nuggets roster, and the team-first culture, was built organically. They passed on the modern-day NBA trend of trying to put three superstars together via free agency. Instead, they drafted and developed their top three players, Jokic, Jamal Murray, and Michael Porter, Jr. And then they went shopping for a few high-character guys that could fill roles around those players, guys like Aaron Gordon, Bruce Brown and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, three guys that don’t need the spotlight. They added Christian Braun, an all-around player who won multiple championships in high school and the NCAA title at Kansas, in last year’s draft. For the bench, they signed veterans who would serve as mentors to the younger players and never whine about playing time, guys like DeAndre Jordan, Jeff Green and Ish Smith.

Malone deserves a lot of credit for building this team-first family culture, as does former general manager Tim Connelly and current general manager Calvin Booth.

But the culture’s foundation is Nikola Jokic, the best basketball player in the world, and a guy who constantly reminds everyone that basketball, at its best, is a team game, not an individual game.

Just like life, at its best.

Ken Reed, Sports Policy Director, League of Fans


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