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Seriously though, can we shut up about Denver Nuggets center Nikola Jokic?

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Why can’t people just talk about Jokic playing basketball?

NBA: Miami Heat at Denver Nuggets Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

It’s been one of the most peculiar things I’ve seen in Denver Nuggets lore. A sort of weird rivalry that’s really more of a pseudo rivalry. Because for Nuggets fans, there’s really not a ton of care about what the Philadelphia 76ers and Joel Embiid do. No one’s popping off hot takes about the Sixers center on social media and Jokic himself is exceedingly indifferent to the whole thing. When asked about whether or not he thought it was fun to go up against Embiid he replied simply “I don’t go up against anybody, I just play basketball.” Yet, mention Jokic’s name, certainly in any sort of ranking among the top centers in the league, and boy does it feel like Sixers faithful comes out of the woodwork. At first it was kind of fascinating, but unfortunately as far too often happens in the forum of social media, it turned ugly.

NBA: Philadelphia 76ers at Denver Nuggets Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

I’m not going to point out and bring attention to the individual who led the charge of body shaming against Jokic this week. That’s what that individual wants. It’s not the first time though the subject has been brought up. Jokic’s conditioning or physical fitness seems to be the latest topic in a long line of excuses for why some people can’t get over the fact that the best center in the league doesn’t match stylistically or physically to their predetermined aesthetic for what a great NBA player is. For some that seems too much to handle. That was the case this weekend and on Monday when one Philadelphia podcaster used words like fat and tubby and bemoaned Jokic for “taking his contract to the buffet.” At first glance some can brush this off as an unfortunate occurrence created from the crossing off an atypical star and a particularly notorious region of sports followers but I think it’s far more than that. I think it’s yet another example early in this season of how media members and fans, both from the opposition and from right here in Denver, are more out of line than ever with the dehumanization of athletes.

For starters, there’s no real basketball merit to the arguments regarding Jokic’s physical fitness. There’s no evidence of him tiring out and fading down the stretch of a game or a season. The fact that Joker is still operating at peak levels late in the game was front and center this weekend as he buried consecutive game winners in the face of some of the toughest competition the position has to offer. He played sixty-five minutes in game three of the Western Conference semi-finals, then came back two days later in Portland and delivered a triple double over 38 minutes to get a victory in a crucial game 4. The idea that somehow Nikola’s endurance or fitness is affecting his ability maintain his play in the NBA is absurd. It’s also not affecting his ability to dominate the NBA. Maybe that’s why Joker gets under the skin of some people. He is so cerebral, his game is based so much on seeing things happen one step before every one else, on being able to have pinpoint accuracy, on being so technically sound that he doesn’t need to look like a Dwight Howard or LeBron James to have a superstar impact and frankly if he did it wouldn’t improve his game much, only the perception of it.

Unfortunately for some people when their team is falling apart at the hands of Nikola they can’t handle those truths and thus resort to ad hominem attacks rather than sound basketball arguments, and that’s the part that really gets to me. There’s a very eye opening part of this business that being a credentialed media member affords you. You get reminded, very frequently, that Jokic and every other member of the Denver Nuggets organization are in fact, people. It’s a lot harder to throw around insults and talk about a player’s physical appearance when that person is in front of you on a daily basis. It shouldn’t matter, of course, we should be invested in being decent human beings regardless of the medium with which we can interact with each other, but that’s just not the way the world works. For some, the fact that athletes are on T.V. and are well compensated gives those people a sense of entitlement to dehumanize them. To sling jabs at an athlete’s appearance as a way of deflecting the fan’s disappointment in the team they choose to root for.

We don’t only see it in the opposing fanbases either though. Nuggets fans are a fickle bunch, it comes with being conditioned by NuggLife for decades. Too often we let our emotions regarding the team swing wildly, sometimes with every possession of a game. Too often when things go wrong our vitriol turns to dehumanizing the same people we root for on a daily basis. Even during good times like now, where the Nuggets are off to one of their best starts in franchise history, we find ways to pry unnecessarily for reasons to be dissatisfied. Perhaps no example is more revealing of this than the flurry of questions, and in some cases statements, regarding Jokic’s mental state when he “struggled” last week. In reality Joker had two games where he didn’t take a ton of shots and didn’t have his best night, yet discussions raged about whether or not he was having fun, whether he was alright, whether there was there a rift between him and Coach Malone, whether he is frustrated with the play of his teammates. On and on people searched for some underlying major malfunction in Jokic’s life to explain what amounted to less than 5% of the season.

While it’s not as blatantly dehumanizing as taking pot shots on the internet about Jokic’s body type, it’s still removing the “people” aspect from the player. There’s precisely one thing I am confident about when it comes to Jokic and whats going on with his mood: he ain’t leaking the details to the media, the fans or anyone else and its pretty out of place for any of us to comment on his mental state with nothing but our own conjecture to go off of. It’s equally as likely that Jokic slept bad, or had indigestion, or simply had a couple off nights as it is that there’s some sort of deeper issue. It’s in fact probably much more likely to have been something simple and mundane. That doesn’t sell clicks and get followers though so we’re left driving a narrative that there’s something deeply wrong and troubling Jokic because he only dropped a 10/10/10 triple double. Personally, I think we should all just shut up when it comes to these types of things.

Whether its commenting on a players body type or conjecturing about there emotions and internal thoughts, it’s disrespecting the human aspect of the player. At the end of the day, these guys aren’t different from you and me. Except for one key difference: everything they do gets blasted across the world to millions of TV sets and gets discussed ad nauseam across every medium we have. Yes, that’s part of the job and yes, they are well compensated for it, but it doesn’t mean we have open season to throw out simple human dignity. Quite the opposite in fact. I say lets strive for that. Let’s remember the human being side of the athletes and be conscious of how much of that gets robbed by the exposure of their profession. Instead of contributing to the theft of what little humanity they have left for clicks and followers, lets protect it because that’s the right thing to do and we’re better than that.