Back in ’17, Kobe Bryant issued challenges to various players and celebrities. Isaiah Thomas was challenged to make First Team All-NBA, Giannis Antetokounmpo to earn an MVP award, and Kendrick Lamar to revolutionize the music program at Centennial High School.
Kobe gives out the 2019 Mamba Mentality Challenge pic.twitter.com/SiigC2EKZe— Bleacher Report (@BleacherReport) March 21, 2019
The Lakers legend challenged then-23-year-old center to win the MVP in the next two years. At the moment of Kobe issuing the challenge, with 12 games left in the regular season, Jokić was averaging 20.3 points, 10.7 rebounds, and 7.5 assists, imposing himself as one of the most promising players in the association. He ended up fourth in the MVP voting after leading the Nuggets to 54 wins and No.2 seed in the West.
The next season, he received two third-places votes, finishing a distant ninth for the MVP. He averaged 19.9 points, 9.7 rebounds, and 7 assists while maintaining a high level of shooting efficiency. The third-seeded Nuggets won 46 games in a shortened NBA season before losing the five-game WCF to the Lakers. In 19 postseason games, Jokić put up 24.4 points, 9.8 rebounds, and 5.4 assists, laying the groundwork for completing Kobe’s challenge in the near future.
Today, a couple of days after the 20/21 regular season wrapped up; the Nuggets superstar has the best case to take home the MVP. He put up career numbers across the board — 26.4 points, 10.8 rebounds, 8.3 assists on 56.6/38.8/86.8 shooting — while leading Denver to 47 wins and No.3 seed in the West, even with the team’s second-best player Jamal Murray out for the season — the Nuggets went 16-8 during the stretch.
Jokić’s 20/21 campaign puts him 10th on the all-time list of single-season PERs (31.28). The only guys with a better Player Efficiency Rating are Giannis Antetokounmpo, Michael Jordan, Wilt Chamberlain, LeBron James, and Steph Curry.
But the most Kobe thing about his MVP season — yes, he will win the award — is the fact Jokić hasn’t missed a single regular-season game. Bryant is the last MVP to do it, one of five in the last 25 years, after Kevin Garnett, Tim Duncan, Michael Jordan, and Karl Malone.
Unfortunately, Bryant won’t be there to see Nikola receive the award. We will also never find out why he issued that specific challenge to Jokić in the first place. All we know is, he’s going to win it within the time frame the Hall of Fame shooting guard specified.