The Nuggets’ locker room was somber, with little of the joking and laughter that had characterized the space for the past months. One by one, Nuggets players were coming and going to pick up their last remaining possessions from their lockers. They all knew that some would be on different teams next year, that the team identity they shared would be broken, as it always was in the NBA.
Nikola Jokic was the last one to appear. He entered the locker room to find only one player still there: Gary Harris was putting some old socks into his bag. Nikola caught his eye and they nodded to each other, but didn’t say anything. There would be time for words later, Nikola knew. Gary wouldn’t be going anywhere.
Sitting down at his locker, Nikola felt that the room wasn’t nearly as cozy when it was so empty. Not just empty of players, but empty of stuff. He grabbed the small pile of objects and clothing that had accumulated near his seat and shoved it into a backpack without looking at it. Then he took down some of the personal decorations he had placed on the walls: pictures of his family, mostly. New ones would go up next year. Looking at each picture in turn, he smiled as the memories associated with each one were recalled to his mind.
When he looked up again, Gary had left. Nikola was all alone. Now he could fulfill the purpose that had really brought him here.
Opening up the front padded compartment at the front of his backpack, Nikola took out a small framed picture. He walked over to a locker on the other side of the room, kneed one knee in front of it, and placed the picture inside.
“We were supposed to be friends,” Nikola whispered to the picture of a stoic-looking Jusuf Nurkic. “And I believe that in a different life, we were. But, in this life, fate conspired to make us enemies.” Nikola paused here, the emotions welling up inside of him. His heart literally ached as he looked at the picture of his former teammate. “Now you have moved on, and I remain here. How cruel this life is, how easily sundered the bonds of friendship are, if even they are formed in the first place.”
Nikola was startled when he felt a hand on his shoulder. For a second, he let himself believe that it could be Jusuf who was behind him, but he was not disappointed when he turned around and saw who it really was.
“You doing okay, man?” Gary Harris asked, looking concerned.
Nikola managed a weak grin. “Yeah. I’ll be fine,” he replied, getting up from his kneeling position. “Maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow, but someday, I’ll be fine.” He took one last look at Jusuf’s picture, and saw that it was now smiling.