Nikola Jokic walked back to the visitor’s locker room with his teammates. All his teammates except one: in the waning minutes of the fourth quarter, Jusuf Nurkic had claimed he felt ill and had run down the tunnel. Nikola privately questioned whether illness was really the cause of Jusuf’s early departure, but kept his thoughts to himself as his teammates happily congratulated him on his new career high.
“The fans here hate you now, you know that?” Wilson Chandler said. “But they respect you too. They probably wish they had you instead of that Porzingis guy. You dominated him.”
“You flatter me too much, man,” Nikola said with a laugh. “Dominate is a very strong word. I admit that I played well.”
“You dominated his ass,” Gary Harris supplied, walking on the other side of Nikola. “His butt’s gonna be sore for days. James Dolan’s gonna ban you from MSG for dropping forty like that.”
Nikola looked around in mock concern. “Uh oh. Gotta look out for security guards trying to tackle me!” he joked. His teammates all laughed in jubilation as they approached the door of the locker room, but when they heard the screams and crashes coming from inside, they all quieted down, identical looks of concern on their faces.
“ONLY ELEVEN MINUTES! AARRRAAARRRGHHH! I HATING NIKOLA JOKIIIIIIIC!” came a muffled yell from inside the locker room, followed by what sounded like splintering wood.
Everybody knew who was causing the commotion, but it was a few seconds before somebody said it out loud. “Sounds like Jusuf isn’t having a good time in there,” Gary commented, trying and failing to sound unconcerned. “Who wants to calm him down?” As he talked, there was a strangled howl followed by the thumps of fists beating against the floor and what sounded like “JOKIC IS RUINS MY CAREEEEEEER!”
“We should all go in there,” Wilson said. “If he’s really as out of control as he sounds, we can probably stop him from doing too much damage to himself.” He pushed open the door, and with the barrier removed, the screams grew clearer and louder.
When Nikola turned the corner into the main locker area, flanked by teammates on all sides, he was astonished at what he saw. All the lockers had been pulled from their spots and thrown around the room. Most of them were in pieces. His and his teammate’s belonings were similarly strewn about. Jusuf himself was banging his head against one of the few intact lockers, and as Nikola watched, Jusuf’s bloodied head cleanly cracked the side panel of a locker in two.
When Jusuf saw that the rest of the team had arrived, he backed up against the wall, panting. Blood from cuts on his forehead ran down his face, and cuts on his hands dripped blood onto the carpet. “Jokic is goings back to Serbia now,” he growled ominously, his glimmering eyes showing no trace of sanity. “Then I will being starter as I deserves.”
“Jusuf, this is crazy,” Nikola said as the teammates around him stood in shocked silence. “Just because I’ve been playing well recently doesn’t mean you’re a bad player. It doesn’t mean that at all.”
Jusuf let out another enraged scream as he grabbed a nearby duffel bag and began ripping it apart with his hands. “NOT…FAIR!” he choked, before suddenly dropping the bag, now in two parts held together only by a zipper, from his hands. “Maybe I goings to talk to Phil Jackson. Maybe he wantings a talented center in trade!” he said, sudden glee entering his voice. Ignoring the protests of his teammates, Jusuf shambled out of the locker room, evidently having injured one of his legs while destroying the furniture.
“Somebody should stop him,” Gary said, but he made no move to follow Jusuf as he made slow progress down the hallway.
“Nah, let him go,” Nikola said, sighing. “Maybe he’ll calm himself down or pass out from blood loss or something.”
“What about all our stuff?” Wilson asked, walking over to a single blood-spattered shoe that had been separated from its counterpart and picking it up in his hand.
“Stuff can be replaced easily,” Nikola said sadly. “But sanity, once lost, is something much harder to replace.”