Nikola Jokic’s Historic Night Was the Perfect Reminder of How ‘the Narrative’ Affects MVP Voting
With all due respect to Joel Embiid and Giannis Antetokounmpo, the NBA MVP race is done. While nothing is official just yet, Nikola Jokic was already the leader in the clubhouse before a historic Thursday night.
From afar, it’s easy to look at voting for MVP as a scientific process; you crunch all the numbers, and that provides your answer. In real life, though, we know something else is at play: the narrative. Everyone casting a ballot, for better or worse, is a human being. It’s hard to avoid buying into the pre-existing storyline and letting that guide your vote.
Prior to Thursday night’s contest, Jokic probably had the MVP crown in the bag. If there was any doubt, though, setting NBA history after being bloodied in the opening minutes of the game should officially seal it. That’s the power of, you guessed it, the narrative.
Nikola Jokic made NBA history after a bloody trip to the bench
During the 2021-22 campaign, Nikola Jokic has done just about everything possible to keep the Denver Nuggets afloat. On Thursday, April 8, though, he one-upped himself.
In the opening minute of the contest, the big man absorbed an inadvertent elbow from Memphis’ Jaren Jackson Jr. The Joker, as invincible as he may seem, began bleeding from just above the eye and quickly headed to the bench. Understandably, that had his coach fearing the worst.
“My first thought was Steve Nash in that playoff series, and they couldn’t stop the bleeding,” Michael Malone said, according to ESPN. “And I’m saying, ‘Of all games, Nikola gets a very non-malicious elbow, an inadvertent elbow to the head, and he’s bleeding. I’m saying, ‘Not tonight.'”
The bench boss had nothing to fear, though. The bleeding eventually stopped, and Jokic donned a headband to return to the floor.
From there, he didn’t miss a beat. While I won’t overwhelm you with too many stats, the big man recorded 35 points,16 rebounds, and six assists in 35 minutes of action. Even more impressively, those totals made him the first player in NBA history to post 2,000 points, 1,000 rebounds, and 500 assists in a season.
Yes, you read that correctly. Nikola Jokic has done something that Michael Jordan, Wilt Chamberlain, or any other legend of your choosing failed to accomplish.
Jokic provided the perfect ‘moment’ to complete his MVP narrative
In fairness to Nikola Jokic, he had probably clinched the MVP crown before Thursday night. His historic performance, however, should be the perfect narrative flourish that engraves his name on the award.
As I somewhat mentioned in the introduction of this post, even the scribes who take on the hallowed task of voting for end-of-season awards are human beings. They’re not magically immune to their own biases, no matter how impartial they may be. That’s why the narrative always matters.
As the very name “most valuable player” suggests, the award isn’t about simply being the best. There’s some judgment involved, as each voter has to assign value. Does that mean the player whose team would suffer the most if they magically vanished deserves to win? Should the award go to the top player on a playoff team? What about the player who most elevates the guys around them? It’s, for better or worse, up for debate.
That’s where the narrative comes in. It’s easy to find a storyline and use that to justify a decision. In this case, Jokic stepped up when the Nuggets lost two key players and kept the franchise in the playoff picture. At the risk of indulging the classic sports cliche, he put the team on his back.
On the whole, narratives don’t have to be complex. Arguably, it’s better to be simple and emotionally charged. Think about Willis Reed taking the court in 1970 or Michael Jordan gutting it out during his
food poisoning Flu Game. You can immediately understand why those moments mattered. That makes the Joker’s historic night against the Grizzlies the perfect finale to an MVP campaign. If you were writing a sports movie, the scene would be edited out for being too unbelievable.
In a way, that makes sense. While there are plenty of ways to watch sports, they’re ultimately entertainment. Just like how you can watch a cheesy movie for the stunts or turn on The Bachelor for the drama, basketball is a spectacle. No matter how much you try to remove yourself and be impartial, there will always be storylines, heroes, and villains.
Using that perspective, let’s return to Jokic. The big man suffered an injury and was bleeding on the bench. Check. He returned to carry the team to victory, sealing a playoff berth. Check. In the process, his incredible performance made basketball history, doing something that literally no player had ever done before. Check.
No matter how impartial you may try to be, it’s tough to see that outing and, knowing what we know about Jokic’s campaign to date, and not say, “That guy has to be the MVP.”
It goes without saying that you can produce plenty of stats to support Jokic’s MVP chances. Sometimes, though, you need a “moment” to cap off the narrative and seal the deal. That’s exactly what we got on Thursday night.