No one could’ve blamed Nuggets superstar Nikola Jokic had he been dispirited in the wake of his weeks-long ordeal following a positive coronavirus test.
Precious practice time with teammates was lost, and for weeks, team officials had to answer for his whereabouts.
Instead, speaking for the first time since his weekend arrival in the NBA’s bubble and since the season shut down in March, Jokic was jovial. He didn’t miss a beat while parrying questions and lobbing jokes at the familiar voices coming through Tuesday’s Zoom call.
“It was not difficult at all, I was home,” Jokic said when asked to describe his last three weeks. “I was quarantined for 14-15 days. We had a little private house. I was with my girlfriend, so it was actually a kind of vacation for us. I work out every day, I enjoy every day. It was actually not that bad.”
Three weeks after the Nuggets expected their star center back with the team and exactly one week after the team arrived in Orlando, Jokic had cleared the mandated 36-48 hour quarantine and passed two negative tests. The only thing holding him back from the team’s practice court in Orlando was a physical that he’ll need to pass, according to a team source. He took in Tuesday’s practice from the sidelines.
“It was great to see him,” said coach Michael Malone, who didn’t have a timeline for the handful of other Nuggets who have yet to arrive in Orlando. “And I could kind of sense the relief of him being here finally, getting here and kind of going through all the different things, requirements, protocols, procedures, whatever you want to call it, to get here. So thankful that he’s here, he’s in great spirits. I think I can speak for everybody on our staff and our roster, having him around is just very uplifting.”
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That good cheer emanated from Jokic, who received questions about his weight, his workout regimen, viral photos of his lean physique and how surprised he was that he actually tested positive more than three weeks ago. Jokic said he was feeling completely normal when a test before he was set to depart Serbia came back positive.
During his 14-day quarantine, he took a break from basketball, but he said he was able to work out every day. It was a continuation of a program designed by Nuggets strength coach Felipe Eichenberger, who Jokic credited with offering guidance since the shutdown.
“I didn’t have a break at all in the weight room,” Jokic said. “I basically worked out full time.”
When pressed on his exact body weight, Jokic couldn’t help himself.
“I think I’m not supposed to tell you my pounds and my weight,” he said with a wry smile, knowing how much his physique had been a topic of discussion since the start of the season. “It’s team policy. … I like that.”
Last season, Jokic readily admitted that his extra heft helped him battle opponents inside.
“Uh, yeah, I needed to say that because what you want me to say like?” he said. “It’s an excuse for the weight but… I’m joking.”
It was almost as if the pounds he’d shed since the hiatus had a palpable effect on his mood. He claimed he’d only lost three-to-five pounds since the shutdown, even if pictures suggested a few more. It was either that, or he was simply relishing his newfound freedom inside the bubble after days of quarantine.
There was the pertinent question of how Jokic’s trim appearance might affect his game. He answered it in his typical understated manner.
“I am just happy to be here, to finally come to Orlando to be with the team,” he said. “Maybe I’m going to surprise everybody. Maybe I am not going to do good. We will see.”
But before he signed off, tying a bow on his return to basketball normalcy, he returned to a mantra that he’s used dozens of time before.
“Thank you guys, of course, it’s my pleasure, like always,” he said. “Oh, I missed that.”