(gonna be a little cursing this time, be forewarned.)
“OLSON!!!! Get your ass over here!!!”
It seemed as if I had not made a favorable first impression on my new high school soccer coach...
I jogged over. “Yeah, coach?”
“Why did you not finish off that slide tackle, g—d—-it?”
I’d gotten the ball away, I just hadn’t put the other guy on his ass.
“Uh... I could have really hurt him, coach...”
“Not your problem, Olson.”
“Coach, this is practice... I’d just rather have him around for the game... Same team...”
We came to terms with how many laps I was about to run, and I was on my way.
It was actually 15 minutes into our first practice for this guy, who was supposed to be a hotshot. I was off to a bad start, when I’d hoped to make a very different impression. I heard my name several more times that day.
A week and a half later, we had our first game, against Thornton. We’d kept them scoreless for most of the first half when the forward playing against me tripped me accidentally and I twisted an ankle. I was subbed out to get wrapped up and back in. While I was watching the game and getting taped up, one of our smallest (and fastest) guys went up to get a header. The kid who was across from him also went to head the ball, but they bumped heads instead, both going down in a heap. My teammate on the ground was bleeding from the forehead and looked a little glassy. The other kid was helped up, but said he was ok to stay and play. While everyone else clapped and watched my buddy helped off the field, I watched the kid from the other team, who walked past the kid who had recently tripped me and low-fived, both barely smiling.
Oh, F—- NO, the little voice in the back of my head said. With the delay, I got to check back in.
I may have never mentioned, but I’m 6’2”, and ran a very solid 220-225 pounds in high school. The football coach kept pestering me, but I’d grown up on soccer, and loved it. I was two inches taller than any other kid on my team, and had anyone on the other side by four. And I was completely pissed off, a fairly rare emotion for me.
I honestly don’t remember a lot of the rest of the game. My dad said I’d had a good one. I sure finished a lot of bleeping slide tackles. I also remember I never stopped talking to those two assholes every time they were within five feet of me. When they subbed out the guy against me, I just kept talking to the guy who was subbed in. It truly felt like my own personal Forrest Whittaker game...
Eventually, people stopped getting within much distance of me. Thornton kept going down the other side of the field against a guy who was a rock star. They got nothing. We beat them 4-0. After the game, my coach grabbed a couple of game balls.
No one on our team was named Posey. We all looked at each other. Coach perked up...
“Oh yeah... Olson, I’m calling you Posey now.”
“Nice game, Posey.” He tossed me a ball.
Later, he explained to me that one of his favorite movies was The Dirty Dozen, a movie I was familiar with. The character Samson Posey is a 6’6” gentle giant who goes to prison for killing a man with a single punch when pushed too far. It was an interesting analogy. Though I ended up with a coach who routinely pushed my buttons, I also made the State team that season. I played angrier that year, for sure.
I saw this bit of television recently, and it reminded me of Samson Posey. As Orlando Jones mentions... Like it or not, anger gets shit done.
But some Poseys can affect your Denver Nuggets even more directly. In the 1999 NBA Draft, the Nuggets had the 18th selection, one they’d use to pick up Xavier hotshot James Posey. Posey came into the league renowned for his collegiate defense, and was also a top-20 career scorer for the Musketeers. Posey had primarily done that for Xavier as a sixth man, a role he’d be known for his whole tenure. He had three (and a third) positive seasons for the Nuggets before being part of a trade to the Houston Rockets in his fourth season. Posey ended up being a valuable cog for a number of teams along his career path, becoming one of a very few players in league history to win titles with more than one team (Heat and Celtics).
Though Posey came into the league with a well-rounded game, he raised the bar every year for himself, improving his weak points to bring more value, and kept his job security as a team-first guy who could contribute in any number of ways. Posey did the dirty work so that guys like Nick Van Exel, Antonio McDyess, Shaquille O’Neal, Dwyane Wade, Kevin Garnett, and Paul Pierce could shine. He filled in the cracks, at both ends of the floor.
So what the hell do these Poseys have to do with budding superstar Nikola Jokic? He’s a pistol, not a pistil, and a stud, not a stamen. What gives?
Only these two little gifts I think could make the difference between being a rock star and an All-Timer.
Anger. Not my strong suit, either, and it cannot be forced. But a close cousin - intensity - needs always be there. When intensity is always there, you get pissed off at the right moment, and voice that anger through devastating play. One of the most exciting parts of watching Jokic grow has been watching him adjust to the league as it has made adjustments to him. Stellar play in nationally televised games and a pair of impressive-to-incredible triple-doubles coming into the All-Star break have gotten him a ton of notice of late. Two of the key components of Jokic’s game are his smarts and creativity, a part of what makes his passing so special. Those traits also augur well for his long-term ability to alter his game throughout his career. But with that, the Joker will need to play with a long-term intensity that focuses on one thing. Beating the other guy, every second you are on the floor, in every action you take.
I you’re Jokic, you do that by controlling the behaviors in the game that don’t help you. Has a ref ever changed his mind when he said something? Not likely. It’s mostly wasted time and breath, with your opponent already running back. Similarly, Jokic nearly fouled out against San Antonio the other night late in the game. In the last two minutes of a contest that shouldn’t have gotten close, Nikola was frustrated about a foul call he felt he should have gotten (I agree). Jokic tried to give a foul in return, a show of his displeasure with the non-call. This is not an uncommon sight. In this case, Jokic was lucky his reach-slap wasn’t called, as it would have been his sixth, and could have put a sour ending on his historically-paced triple double, especially had it turned into a loss with him off the floor. Both of those actions happen out of anger. Anger about what’s not working in your favor, fair or not. If you can take that anger and turn it into actions that turn the tide, Jokic is an unstoppable handful at his laser-focused best.
Get angry by beating the other guy. Like it or not, anger gets shit done. Just like Samson Posey. Or a high school soccer pacifist-turned-pissed-off-player. You decide if that outcome is a good thing or a bad one, depending on how you express that anger. Believe me (and Russell Westbrook). Someone will always be trying to push your buttons.
Growth. Desired growth. One of the hallmarks of James Posey’s career was improvement throughout. Though Posey was never a superstar, he made himself valuable with a drive to do something even tougher than beating the other guy. Beating himself. Could have phrased that better. Being a step better than the player he was yesterday. The league is littered with examples of how and why that is the path to success, from the GOAT (Michael Jordan) to Nikola’s neighbor (Gary Harris). Find your weak spots and make them stronger. Lather. Rinse. Repeat.
The first place for Nikola to focus that desire for growth this offseason is on his defense. Though Jokic will never be the defender the spider-like Posey was, some dedication can make him a non-negative on so many defensive issues. Adam Mares’ exceptional breakdown of the Nuggets pick-and-roll mishaps was highlighted with a few great places for the Joker to start. If he were to simply take away that one hole in his game, his efficiency could go from routinely dazzling to historic.
Happy belated birthday, Nikola. The Stiffs already had some lovely things to say about you on your birthday. I’m a huge fan of your head and your heart, even more than I am a fan of your game and desire to have a close and cohesive team. I love the place where all of that comes from.
Now go punch that other guy in the mouth, when you have to. Things can be rosy when you’re a Posey.
Nikola Jokic’s long-term future is:
This poll is closed
An all-time great
One of the best the Nuggets have ever had
The star of this Nuggets era
A great component
We will see