Nikola Jokic sat silently during the Nuggets’ player introductions, getting ready to jump up when his name was called. The introduction ceremonies were a little bit trite, but he never failed to get pumped up when his name was said over the PA system, even when they weren’t playing at home..
So when heard the introductory “At center, standing six foot ten, from Serbia,” Nikola got ready to leap from his seat. “Nikola Jo-”
Suddenly, the announcer’s voice cut out, and all the lights in the arena turned off with a heavy clunking noise. The cheesy background music had also stopped. A confused murmur went through the crowd, following by some sarcastic clapping and whooping. Nikola’s first thought was that there had been a power outage, but there was a part of him that suspected a more sinister explanation.
After a few seconds of near-total darkness, where the only light in the arena was that of the fans’ phones and the meager emergency lights, a bright spotlight turned on near the ceiling. There was a collective gasp as the eyes of thousands followed the light to its target: it was Jusuf Nurkic, standing on a catwalk high above the arena floor, holding in his hands a microphone and grinning maniacally. Nikola stared, dumbfounded, at his former teammate, wondering with sick curiosity what the next step would be in their imagined rivalry.
“I HATING NIKOLA JOKIC!” Jusuf half-yelled, half-growled in a deranged voice. There was dead quiet in the arena after he spoke, and the words echoed menacingly. Nikola could feel the sympathetic gazes of his teammates, but refused to meet them; instead, he kept staring up at the arena ceiling.
“Nikola Jokic tryings to ruining my career,” Jusuf continued in a quieter, but just as demented, voice. “But he is failings to ruin career, same to how he failings at all thing in pathetic life. Many penis he put in mouth all day.” There was some gasps after Jusuf uttered these crass words. “All in arena, now looking at ugly dumb face of Nikola!”
Nikola was temporarily blinded as a second spotlight was turned on and pointed directly at his face. He tried to move out of the way of the light but, as he took several steps to the left, the spotlight followed him, commanded either by Jusuf or an unknown accomplice.
He stood there alone at center court. Teammates, coaches, and opposing players alike had automatically backed away from the bright light. “Jusuf, you have to come down from there. It’s not safe!” he yelled up to his former teammate, his words carrying easily through the silent, still air of the arena.
Almost in a response to these words, Jusuf stumbled a little bit on the thin walkway and held his arms out to steady himself. “Real not safe thing is stupid Nikola Jokic beings main player on team,” he retorted, his words much louder than Nikola’s thanks to his amplification. “Plan like that sure to making into ruins Nuggets organization.”
Nikola was growing too hot underneath the intensely bright beam, so he stepped out of its radius, only to have it continue following him. He felt slightly silly having this conversation with Jusuf while tens of thousands of people listened in, but there was no other choice. “Why do you care what the Nuggets do, Jusuf? That chapter of your life has ended! It’s no longer your concern! Just move on!”
“Nuggets is ruinings my career!” Jusuf replied in an anguished voice, pacing frantically as if his agitation could only be released through physical movement. “Only it not just Nuggets – it Nikola Jokic who is the fault! And now…” Here he paused, catching his breath. “…I will coming down.”
Wondering what had caused the sudden change of heart, Nikola looked up again at the arena ceiling and saw something utterly unexpected:
Jusuf Nurkic was falling out of the sky and hurtling right towards where he stood.
Women in the crowd were screaming, men were yelling, and hundreds of phones were recording. Nikola had no time to do anything other than react instinctively, diving out from underneath the landing zone with no thought given to whether Jusuf’s fall was a deliberate act. A mere second later, there was a sick cracking sound and a low groan from the fans in attendance as Jusuf’s body made contact with the unyielding arena floor.
Nikola’s first thought was that Jusuf was dead. He was lying facedown near the center-court logo, and he wasn’t moving. Both of his arms and both of his legs were visibly broken in multiple places, and a small pool of blood was seeping out from underneath the unmoving body. The spotlight pointed at the ceiling had been turned off, but the other one was pointed right at where Jusuf’s body lay.
Nobody was rushing forward to help. Nikola, fearing the worst, was the first to reach the impact site. “Jusuf? Jusuf?” he asked quietly.
To the surprise of everyone, most of all Nikola, Jusuf lifted his head slightly. “I…hating…Nikola…Jokic…” he gasped. Then, his eyes closed, and his head slumped lifelessly to the court.