The legend of Nikola Jokic grows, again.
Undoubtedly the most unlikely superstar the game has ever seen, Jokic is now an NBA champion, firmly cementing his place as one of the game's all-time greats.
If there was any doubt surrounding Jokic's status in the all-time pantheon now, just run his resume: he's an NBA champion, Finals MVP, Western Conference Finals MVP, two-time league MVP, five-time All-Star, and five-time All-NBA selection. All at the age of 28.
Among other players to win their first title at 28? Michael Jordan, Shaquille O'Neal, and Kevin Durant. And while Jordan's place as one of the greatest players to ever play the game is untouchable — Jokic isn't close to being there yet — Jokic has quickly moved into Durant's realm and O'Neal suddenly seems well within reach.
With championship wins comes legacy talk, and Jokic's run to the 2023 title is a legacy booster on a number of levels. Let's take a closer look.
The historic element of Nikola Jokic's run to 2023 title
With Jokic at the forefront of it all, the Nuggets franchise achieved a number of "firsts" this season.
Led by Jokic's near-triple-double averages of 24.5 points, 11.5 rebounds and 9.8 assists per game, Denver secured its first-ever No. 1 seed with a 53-29 record in the regular season. Along the way, Jokic recorded his 79th triple-double to surpass Wilt Chamberlain for most triple-doubles by a center in NBA history, and fell just shy of a third consecutive MVP award, finishing as runner-up to Joel Embiid.
When the playoffs came along, Jokic didn't miss a beat, setting a new postseason record with 10 triple-doubles, soaring up the all-time leaderboard by bringing his career postseason tally up to 16.
In the opening round, the Nuggets made light work of the Timberwolves and Jokic made two decorated big men in Rudy Gobert and Karl-Anthony Towns look rather pedestrian.
In the semifinals, it was a Suns team that featured an up-and-coming star in Devin Booker, two all-time greats in Durant and Chris Paul and a center in Deandre Ayton that has given Jokic fits in the past. Jokic's averages of 34.5 points, 13.2 rebounds and 10.2 assists in Denver's win would suggest those fits were certainly a thing of the past.
The Nuggets' run through the first two rounds set up a date in the Western Conference Finals with LeBron James, Anthony Davis, and the Lakers — it would be the fourth time that LA stood in the way of Denver advancing to the NBA Finals.
Including a win over Jokic and company in 2020, the Lakers were victorious each time.
This time around, however, was almost poetic in that Jokic and the Nuggets earned the first-ever series sweep in franchise history, needing just four games to make their first-ever trip to the NBA Finals. James may be in his 20th season, but Jokic's first journey to a title included a sweep of one of the other players that has a stake in the claim of being the greatest player of all time.
As the Finals came around, it was evident that Jokic's blend of skill, size and strength was too much for the Heat. Unfazed by the moment, Jokic became just the second player in NBA history to record a triple-double in his Finals debut and turned in a historic triple-double with 32 points, 21 rebounds and 10 assists in a crucial Game 3 win.
It would be his signature performance in his first-ever Finals win.
Looking back, the 2023 NBA Playoffs as a whole are a signature performance for Jokic, who becomes the first-ever player to lead the entire playoffs in points, rebounds and assists.
Nikola Jokic is the 1st player in NBA history to lead all players in points, rebounds and assists in a single postseason. pic.twitter.com/DtqhfBKLIl— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) June 13, 2023
Doing something that's never been done before is often the mark of an all-time run. Jokic's feat qualifies.
How 2023 title validates Nikola Jokic's all-time greatness
Prior to this season, Jokic's standing as a back-to-back MVP with a never-before-seen skillset placed him in a class of his own among his contemporaries. Still, many doubted his status as an all-time great due to his lack of a championship.
Does it translate to winning? Is he a postseason player? Can he be the best player on a championship team? All of the questions that were once posed about Jokic can now be answered with a resounding "yes."
Those arguments don't hold weight anymore.
No longer a casualty of the vaunted "Rings Culture," the masses can take Jokic's resume for what it is — and that's the resume of someone that lands somewhere among the top 20 and 25 players to play the game. Depending on who you ask, of course.
Let this championship also serve as a reminder of just how special the center position is.
Wherever Jokic lands in that top 20, he finds himself in the company of some of the game's greatest centers — Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Bill Russell, Wilt Chamberlain, Hakeem Olajuwon, and O'Neal still stand before him, but Jokic's first title gives him a seat at the table and places him in a tier with the likes of Moses Malone and David Robinson.
At 28, Jokic has plenty of time to vault himself ahead of other centers, which, in turn, would move him even higher on the all-time list. The Nuggets are built for sustained success, and while winning a title is no easy feat, Denver has an all-time great leading the way, after all.
Before getting too far ahead in forecasting future titles for Jokic and the Nuggets, take a moment to appreciate the run they just completed to win this historic title. In 2023, Jokic solidified himself as one of the best we'll ever see play this game.