He is one of the best passing big men in NBA history, so it’s no wonder people compared Nikola Jokić to Bill Walton. But the main similarity between Walton and Jokić is the spark they play with, making everyone else infected with the joy of playing basketball. Jokić and Walton are one of those guys your friends and family that are not basketball fans would enjoy watching play.
In an interview with Michael Pina of GQ, Walton talked with a lot of passion and excitement about the great work the NBA as a community has done to bring basketball back, make the bubble work, and everything they’ve done off the court. But obviously, Jokić was the main point of conversation.
“He looks like he’d be really fun to play with. He looks like a great teammate and a spectacularly skilled player who plays to win. And he can do so many different things. He’s big, strong, powerful, mobile, skilled, intelligent, creative, collaborative. Empty the thesaurus.”Bill Walton, GQ
People don’t talk like that about basketball anymore. They should. Walton continued to heap praise on Jokić, and there was an underlying sentiment in all his answers. Basketball is a reflection of your character, how you live your life. Jokić impressed Walton because he plays within the flow of the game.
“Whether it’s his three-point shooting, whether it’s his rebounds, whether it’s his tipped balls to a teammate, in any situation, whatever he’s doing, it’s always based on the flow. In life, we search for the flow and the glow, but we also search for growth. … He puts a smile on my face. And I glow. There’s a warmth in my heart. It’s fun. It’s creative, it’s imaginative, and they’re winning.”Bill Walton, GQ
This may be a bit too hippy for some people, but Walton captured what we’re desperately missing in basketball. All the analytics, sports performance, horrible reviewing of plays in the last quarter, the micromanagement of every aspect just to get to the top, crowded out the joy of playing ball.
The cult of winning, particularly winning it all, needs to change. That isn’t the only thing that marks a great player or a team. We need to start appreciating and praising teams that have the joy of playing ball as a core value. Whether they win or lose this series, in my mind, the ‘19/’20 Nuggets will always be a great basketball team.