The small Serbian town of Sombor erupted with joy as its beloved son, Nikola Jokic, led the Denver Nuggets to their first-ever NBA championship. The elation was further heightened by tennis star Novak Djokovic’s triumph at the French Open, solidifying June as a month to remember for Serbian sports fans.
In the early hours of the morning, passionate fans in Sombor could be heard chanting “MVP! MVP!” as they celebrated Jokic’s exceptional performance in Game 5 of the NBA Finals. Despite trailing the Miami Heat at halftime, the Nuggets staged a remarkable comeback, with Jokic contributing 28 points and 16 rebounds. His invaluable efforts earned him the coveted title of NBA Finals Most Valuable Player.
Each shot, rebound, and block made by the Serbian center sent the sports hall in Sombor into a frenzy. The atmosphere was electric as fans watched the game on a large screen, cheering and shouting with every play.
The loudest cheer came when Jokic, known for his humility and stoic demeanor, uttered the words “It’s time to go home” during a postgame interview on the court.
Soon, those loyal fans who stayed up countless nights to support Jokic in the NBA Finals will have the opportunity to see their hero in person, as he returns home to care for his racehorses. Jokic developed a deep passion for horses and horse racing, which led him to purchase his first racehorse years ago. His stables, named the Dream Catcher, are located near Sombor.
For the Balkan nation of just over 6 million people, June will forever be etched in memory. The month brought a dual triumph, with Jokic securing his first NBA championship ring and Djokovic clinching a record-setting 23rd Grand Slam singles title at the French Open.
Nikola Jokic’s father, Branislav, who manages a harness racing club on the outskirts of Sombor, expressed his amazement and pride in his son’s accomplishments. In an NBA report, he said, “I don’t think this great accomplishment can ever be repeated again.”
Nearby, a basketball court stands as a reminder of Jokic’s humble beginnings, where he first honed his skills as a young player. The court features a large mural of Jokic in his Nuggets’ No. 15 jersey, accompanied by the inspiring words, “Don’t be Afraid to Fail Big.”
Branislav Jokic, wearing a blue Denver Nuggets jersey, acknowledged that Nikola’s success as a basketball player exceeded expectations. From a talented youngster in a small town to signing his first contract with the Nuggets, Jokic’s journey has been extraordinary. However, his father revealed that Nikola’s true passion was always horses.
“He had something special within him. I rarely mention it today, but I simply knew that he would be a good basketball player. But as to what heights he would reach, nobody could have known then,” Branislav Jokic said.
He added that while his son dedicated himself to basketball, his heart was always drawn to horses. “He started growing, both in height and size, and he started to become aware that he could be a basketball player, but he had a great desire in those days. He would say, ‘Dad, I want to become a horseman.’ And I used to tell him: ‘Son, become a basketball player first, and you’ll become a great horseman later.'”
In addition to his NBA Finals MVP accolade, Jokic made history as the lowest-drafted player (41st overall) to win the award. Furthermore, he became the first player in NBA history to lead the playoffs in points, rebounds, and assists, showcasing his exceptional all-around skills.
Both Jokic and Djokovic, extraordinary athletes who grew up within a few hours’ drive of each other in Serbia, have etched their names in the history books with their exceptional achievements. Their successes highlight the significance of sports in Serbia, and Jokic expressed his pride, stating, “It’s a very good feeling to be a Serb now,” during a news conference.
As Sombor basks in the glory of its local hero’s NBA triumph and the nation celebrates the accomplishments of Jokic and Djokovic, Serbia stands proud, united by the achievements of its extraordinary sports icons.