Of Athletes and Nuggets 

Last Monday, the Denver Nuggets defeated the Miami Heat 94-89 to win their first NBA championship, with two key players who are not American nationals. Series most valuable player Nikola Jokic, a two-time league MVP, hails from Sombor, Serbia. Fans and players alike have never seen anyone quite like the “Joker.”

He’s six foot eleven and weighs 284 pounds, yet brings up the ball like a guard. Like some oversize Clayton Kershaw, Jokic throws long passes with pinpoint accuracy. Former NBA player Richard Jefferson compares him to a water polo forward, ball held above his head and moving like a swivel. And as Yogi Berra might have put it, the Joker is equally ambidextrous with either hand. Double-team him for a second and he will find the open man. 

The Joker can bull his way inside for the easy score, and as the Lakers’ fine defender Anthony Davis discovered, Jokic can drain a three-pointer with the best of them. In playoff triple-doubles Jokic leads the pack, yet some regard him as unathletic. True, the Joker is not the fastest runner or highest jumper, but other great centers also had to contend with the laws of physics. 

For example, Wes Unseld of the Washington Bullets was once described as a “300-pound moving stump.” Not known for his ability to elevate, Unseld was a ferocious rebounder, with an outlet pass of Howitzer velocity. 

As Unseld, Jokic, and others have learned, it’s not so much how high you jump but when you jump. Jokic is seldom if ever faked off his feet and his secondary jump, say, after a missed shot, is very quick. 

In the NBA, it’s not so much how fast you run but where you run. Nobody can make Nikola Jokic go anywhere on the court he doesn’t want to go. The Joker is basically unstoppable and former Denver legend Alex English, the leading scorer of the 1980s, believes Jokic is in the conversation for one of the all-time greats.

Teammate Jamal Murray hails from Kitchener, Ontario, where hockey is king. His father drilled him hard at hoops, reportedly making him do pushups if he failed to sink a certain number of shots. Jamal knew he could play with the Americans, and the Nuggets are glad to have him.

The NBA is a rare bastion of pure merit. The league has no quota for Canadians, Serbians, or American players of different skin shades. Nobody plays because daddy or mommy owns the team, has a lot of money, or happens to be famous. Teams don’t care if a player was a walk-on or never played in college, like LeBron James, Kobe Bryant, or Luka Doncic.

During this year’s playoffs, the Miami Heat played seven undrafted players: Udonis Haslem, Haywood Highsmith, Caleb Martin, Duncan Robinson, Max Strus, Gabe Vincent and Omer Yurtseven. The Heat still gave Denver a good run. 

After the Nuggets swept the Lakers, LeBron James, 38, was thinking about retirement. In the woke conditions of 2023, the four-time NBA champion has options not available in the past.

James could get hormone treatments, tap Target to design a special “tuck” uniform, and join the Los Angeles Sparks or some other WNBA team. Opponents who complained would be branded as “transphobes,” and league officials would give the newcomer full support. 

Under those special protections, James could shatter records for points, assists, and rebounds, and doubtless lead the team to championships well into his 40s. If that seems a stretch, consider swimmer “Lia” Thomas.

Born William Thomas, he competed on the University of Pennsylvania men’s swimming team for three years. On the 2018-19 men’s team, Thomas ranked 554th in the country in the 200 freestyle, not exactly a stellar performance. 

After a year of hormone treatments, Thomas “has been busy smashing female pool records,” as Fox News reported. Yet in the women’s 200 freestyle last year, the six-foot-one Thomas, rudder still intact, managed only a tie for fifth with five-foot-seven Riley Gaines of the University of Kentucky. Gaines thinks biological males should not be competing against women, and she’s right. 

The trans types should take a cue from drag racing and compete in a special altered class. Women should compete against women and men against men, as in the NBA. It’s all about merit, talent, and a level playing surface. Come playoff time, that makes for a good show. 

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About Lloyd Billingsley

Lloyd Billingsley is the author of Hollywood Party and other books including Bill of Writes and Barack ‘em Up: A Literary Investigation. His journalism has appeared in the Wall Street Journal, the Spectator (London) and many other publications. Billingsley serves as a policy fellow with the Independent Institute.

Photo: Justin Edmonds/Getty Images

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