NUGGETS

Nikola Jokic isn’t on Colorado’s sports Mount Rushmore… yet

May 10, 2022, 6:00 AM | Updated: 6:22 am
DENVER, COLORADO - JUNE 01: Nikola Jokic #15 of the Denver Nuggets leaves the court after their dou...
(Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images)
(Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images)

On Monday, it was revealed that Nikola Jokic had made history. The Nuggets center was named the NBA’s Most Valuable Player for the 2021-22 season, making him the 15th player in the Association’s history to win the award multiple times.

The honor also put Jokic on an even smaller list. By winning back-to-back MVPs, the center became the first player in the history of Colorado sports to win their league’s highest individual honor more than once.

John Elway. Peyton Manning. Terrell Davis. They all won the NFL’s MVP just one time.

Joe Sakic. Peter Forsberg. One Hart Trophy each.

Larry Walker. Just one National League MVP.

That puts Jokic is rarified air. He’s in a class of one, all by himself.

There have been a lot of great players to take the field, court and ice in Colorado. The four major professional sports franchises are littered with Hall of Fame inductees.

But only one was the best in his league more than once during his career. Jokic.

He certainly deserved the award. While Joel Embiid had a great year in Philadelphia, and would’ve been a solid choice as MVP, the 76ers center didn’t do something that had never been done in NBA history.

Jokic became the first player to ever score 2,000 points, grab 1,000 rebounds and dish out 500 assists in a single season. He did it with his two best teammates shelved for all but nine games, leading his depleted team to 48 wins and the No. 6 seed in the Western Conference.

He deserved the award. He was the rightful choice.

That said, it’s time to pump the brakes on the hyperbole surrounding Jokic now that he’s won a second MVP. While the honor puts him into an elite group of all-time greats to play in Colorado, it doesn’t put him at the top of the list. In fact, it doesn’t even get him onto the proverbial Mount Rushmore.

MVPs are regular-season awards. Athletes become icons by getting it done in the playoffs.

As great as it is that Jokic won the MVP, the city isn’t going to come to a stop, gather downtown and celebrate. Parades are reserved for champions.

That’s what gets remembered forever. That’s what makes someone a legend.

Elway only won a single MVP, winning it in 1987. But he took the Broncos to five Super Bowls, won two Lombardi Trophies and exited as the MVP of Super Bowl XXXIII. He had clutch moments like “The Drive” and “The Drive II” in the postseason, making his mark as one of the best big-game players in NFL history.

He’s on the Mount Rushmore of Colorado sports.

Davis only won a single MVP, capturing it in 1998 when he rushed for 2,008 yards. He only had three great seasons. But in eight playoff games, he rushed for 1,140 yards and 12 touchdowns, helping Denver win two Super Bowls and earning MVP honors in Super Bowl XXXII.

He’s on the Mount Rushmore of Colorado sports.

Sakic only won a single Hart Trophy, earning it in the 2000-01 season when he racked up 118 points, scored 12 game-winning goals and led the league with a +45 plus/minus. That year, he led the Avalanche to their second Stanley Cup. Five years earlier, he won the Conn Smythe trophy by scoring 18 goals and recording 34 points in 22 playoff games, bringing the first-ever championship to Colorado.

He’s on the Mount Rushmore of Colorado sports.

Patrick Roy never won a Hart Trophy. But during his eight seasons in an Avalanche sweater, he did hoist two Stanley Cups. In 2001, he carried the Avs to their second title, earning the Conn Smythe by posting a .934 save percentage, allowing just 1.70 goals per game and recording four shutouts in the playoffs. His performance in Game 6 of the Stanley Cup Finals, when he shut out the Devils in New Jersey to force a deciding game back in Denver, was the stuff of legend.

He’s on the Mount Rushmore of Colorado sports.

Right behind these four are Peyton Manning and Von Miller. Manning won the NFL MVP in 2013. Miller won MVP honors in Super Bowl 50.

As great as Jokic’s career has been up to this point, his resume doesn’t match those players. Why? Because his teams haven’t fared very well in the playoffs.

They lost a Game 7 on their home court to the Blazers in 2019, getting bounced in the second round. They were swept out of the second round last season. And this year, they exited in the first round after just five games.

Jokic did get the Nuggets to the Western Conference Finals in 2020, but that was in the NBA bubble. Not having to play road games puts a giant asterisk next to that accomplishment.

Jokic’s failings in the postseason aren’t squarely on him. The past two years in particular, he’s been trying to win in the playoffs with an injury-riddled roster. But they do limit his greatness.

That’s just the way it works. To be considered the best of the best, championships matter. To be considered an all-time great, coming through in the clutch is part of the equation. Elway, Davis, Sakic and Roy did just that, putting them in a different category that the other greats in Colorado sports history.

Until Nikola Jokic brings an NBA title to Denver, he can’t be etched into the state’s Mount Rushmore of sports icons. He’s a great player. But he’s not a legend. He’s not an icon. Not yet.

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