Nikola Jokic made history on Tuesday by becoming the lowest-drafted player ever to win an NBA Most Valuable Player award. The Denver Nuggets superstar went 41st overall out of Serbia in the 2014 NBA draft, and seven years later, he’s now the league MVP.
Jokic was selected so late and was such a no-name in the 2014 draft that the ESPN broadcast didn’t even think to announce his name on live television. In fact, he heard his name called that night while a Taco Bell commercial advertising the “quesarito” (a quesadilla-burrito hybrid, if you will) played on the main screen. The start of Jokic’s NBA career, and now his MVP trophy, will forever be associated with seasoned beef and melty cheese.
Nikola Jokic wins MVP
Jokic’s journey from little-known Serbian prospect to the NBA’s Most Valuable Player has been a fascinating one to watch. The three-time All-Star was nothing more than a complimentary center who could rebound well and step out to the 3-point line throughout his rookie season. But Jokic made it a point after 2015 to improve his playmaking, and he’s upped his assist total in each of the last five seasons.
This year, Jokic averaged 26.4 points, 10.8 rebounds, and 8.3 assists for the Nuggets. He still hasn’t missed a single game all season, and he’s now led Denver to the second round of the Western Conference playoffs even without star guard Jamal Murray in the lineup.
Jokic was officially named the MVP of the 2020-21 season on Tuesday, and the vote wasn’t particularly close, either. The big man received 91 out of 101 first-place votes for a total of 971 points. He bested second-place Joel Embiid by 385 points in the end.
“It’s a big accomplishment,” Jokic told ESPN’s Inside the NBA after the announcement. “But it’s something that, like I said to the guys, it’s not just me. I couldn’t do it by myself. It’s something that it is an individual award but it’s the effort of everybody who is part of the Denver Nuggets organization.”
Jokic becomes the sixth international player ever to win MVP and the first center since Shaquille O’Neal in 2000 to take home the award. Even though he was the heavy favorite for most of the season, Jokic said he didn’t even think about winning MVP until the announcement came this week.
“I never thought about it,” he said. “Even when the season was over, I was into the Portland series, so my focus wasn’t on that. I didn’t want to even think about it because it’s just a trophy, and the season is not over. So I was just trying to keep my focus on the games.”
Seasoned beef and melty cheese welcomed him to the NBA
Most NBA draft prospects get the pleasure of hearing their name called by the commissioner on draft night. After all, there are only two rounds and 60 picks in total, so it isn’t hard to give every prospect their big moment. But back in 2014, the ESPN broadcast of the draft was completely fine going to commercial during the Nuggets’ second-round selection.
As a Taco Bell commercial advertising the famed “quesarito” started playing on the main screen, Denver’s pick quickly flashed below it: “Nikola Jokic PF – Serbia.”
Some viewers likely wondered, “Huh? Nikola who?” Others probably thought, “Dang, that looks delicious. Seasoned beef and melty cheese wrapped in a quesadilla? This is going to change fast food forever!”
Little did they know, the unknown name below the burrito would do the same to the NBA seven years later.
Jokic is the lowest-drafted NBA player ever to win MVP
Jokic has now established himself as a perennial star in the NBA, but not many saw this meteoric rise coming a few years ago. Andrew Wiggins, Jabari Parker, and Joel Embiid dominated the headlines heading into the 2014 NBA draft, while Jokic was considered an afterthought as a slightly intriguing European prospect.
The Nuggets took a chance on Jokic with the 41st overall pick in the draft. Denver liked his sneaky mobility and high basketball IQ coming from Serbia, but the franchise never could’ve predicted an MVP award in his future.
And apparently, neither did ESPN.