Playing Ball

Playing Ball

Jamal with confetti. Rachel B. Glaser. The collective dream is over. Squinting, we walk out of the playoffs and return to Life. Images linger—a giant holding a toddler in a storm of confetti. A shiny, exuberant, mantis-like man standing next to a trophy. The woman who sat courtside wearing red and white gowns. The inexplicable man-made-out-of-Sprite commercial. Duncan Robinson's tough-guy face. On Monday, after the great battle of Game 5, the Denver Nuggets won the NBA championship for the first time in franchise history. I was introduced to the on-court chemistry between Nuggets stars Nikola Jokić and Jamal Murray during the 2020 Western Conference Finals. Though they lost that series in five games to the Lakers (who would go on to win the championship after beating the Heat), they were great fun to watch. I found Murray's smile infectious. He seemed unselfconscious and comfortable in his body. When he was having fun, I was having fun. In 2021, Jokić received the first of two consecutive MVP awards. Right before the playoffs that year, Murray tore his ACL, missing the playoffs and the entire next season. Jokić carried the team without him, but in the 2022 playoffs, the Nuggets lost in the first round to the Golden State Warriors (who later went on to win the championship). While Sixers center Joel Embiid won this year's MVP, most basketball fans believe Jokić is the better player. His performance in these Finals was sensational. His passes were gorgeous, his threes looked like afterthoughts. When the camera cut to him, he often seemed displeased. He was an unstoppable force, even when he wasn't scoring. He made it look effortless. I thought of him as Paul Bunyan. I liked whenever the broadcast cut to a room in Serbia, Jokić's home country, where fans stayed up till dawn, watching the Nuggets game live. In the postgame interviews before the award ceremony, it was wonderful to see Jamal Murray's teary-eyed smile as he spoke the long journey coming back from his injury. And even a Heat fan could appreciate Jokić's genuine disappointment upon learning that […]

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