In my opinion, all due respect to Jack Nicholson, there are two men who have honorably borne the mantle of “The Joker”. These men are Heath Ledger and Nikola Jokic. That each of these men has fulfilled the duties required to assume the title does not men that these men are in any way similar to the other. One was a luminary of the acting world while the other is an overachieving 41st pick from the 2014 NBA draft. One hailed from down under while the other proudly represents Bosnia on the world state. Both have presented the world with a beautiful chaos before only conceptualized. While the world is well-versed in the genius and tragedy of Heath Ledger, I fear that the name Nikola Jokic is not as easily associated with the name, “The Joker”. Let us begin.
Nikola Jokic is a 6′ 10″ Bosnian who has two older brothers who could likely defeat Batman in a fair fight (no gadgets). The brand of chaos he creates is uniquely his own. He lumbers up a basketball court in between beats, moving to a different rhythm than any other player. He’ll pick up his dribble and look trapped, only to fire a one handed pass cross-court to a wide open player spotting up in the corner. His vision is other-worldly. When Jokic steps onto the court, the normal considerations for every other player on said court instantly morph.
Players who would once be considered “covered” are now suddenly wide open. Jokic’s uncanny delivery and 6′ 10″ height open up passing lanes that are closed to all others. Behind the unassuming facade of doughy frankenstein lurks a finely tuned super-computer calibrated to do one thing and one thing only; get buckets at all costs.
The world rightly and appropriately mourns the loss of Heath Ledger, undeniably the greatest Joker which the world’s greatest detective will ever square off against. Heath managed to perfectly capture the unnerving instability of a true psychopath and left us knowing true chaos. Nikola Jokic gives us a different chaos. Jokic’s is an exciting chaos. His is one which does not make you afraid of what will happen next, but giddily anticipate it. Where Ledger terrified the viewer by endangering all around him (as The Joker in the Batman movies), Jokic electrifies the viewer by enabling everyone around him. Consequently, the players around him learn to keep moving, always looking for a cut that they know will be rewarded by the omniscient Jokic (Oatu the Watcher is another comic book comp for the big man).
Comic books are the pinnacle of media. Basketball is the pinnacle of sport. Passing is the pinnacle of basketball. Passing is all that is best in the sport; it’s giving up on doing everything yourself and putting faith in your teammates. Nikola Jokic embodies both The Joker, comic book royalty, and passing, basketball’s greatest art. All hail the chaos, all hail the Joker.