Count Shaquille O’Neal as a fan of Nuggets star Nikola Jokic winning the 2021 NBA MVP Award. Speaking to Jokic on TNT, O’Neal thanked Jokic for winning MVP and what it means for centers in the Association.
“Joker, Shaq here, thank you!” the Hall of Fame inductee said. “Because of you, the big man is back in today’s game. You’re the first big man to win MVP in a very long time. I thank you and I appreciate you big time. Coming from Serbia as a kid, did you ever think that ‘I will be MVP of the NBA one day?’”
“No! To be honest, I didn’t even think I would be in the NBA, you know,” Jokic said in response. “My goal, as far as why I was playing basketball back home, was playing in the EuroLeague. Because it was the closest top league to my country, you know.
“I thought I can play in some big clubs in Serbia and then kinda grind my way up,” Jokic continued. “But then when Denver Nuggets drafted me, it was an opportunity for me to become an NBA player and I think I did a good job of using that opportunity.”
— NBA on TNT (@NBAonTNT) June 9, 2021
Jokic is, in fact, the first big to win MVP since O’Neal took home the award in 2000. Jokic is obviously very different than O’Neal, but both are unique dominant in their own ways. Jokic be at the head of a class of bigs who all could at least contend MVPs in the coming years. Not only could he win multiple — he’s squarely in his prime — but Joel Embiid is around and likely would have been in the conversation this year had he not gotten hurt. Maybe this is the start of an all-new era for big men among the NBA’s elite players.