Nikola Jokic walked into the now-barren Nuggets locker room. He had been putting off this moment for days, like if he didn’t clean out his locker, the season could still be going on… the act of cleaning out his locker had a certain finality about it. There was no turning back after that, no returning, not until next season… he sighed, and went over to his locker, the only one still covered in used game apparel, half-eaten packages of snacks, and pictures of his friends and family back home. But there was a new picture there…
He walked over, and grabbed it off the shelf. It was a picture of him and Jusuf Nurkic, laughing together at some forgotten Nuggets team event. On it was scribbled in black marker “Jusuf and Nikola, friends for the forever”, and underneath that, “I’m sorry”.
Nikola sat down in the chair, holding the picture in both hands. He stared at it for a while. He knew this was another one of Jusuf’s tricks, but he couldn’t help but feel emotional. After all that had happened this season, all the triumph, all the agony, Jusuf’s message pushed him over the edge. He wept.
How long he sat there, mulling over the events of not just this year, but past years, silent tears streaming down his face, he didn’t know, but he was snapped out of his thoughts by a sudden crash. Jusuf plummeted through the ceiling tiles, landing with a large thud. Nikola, enfeebled by emotion, could hardly react as an emaciated-looking Jusuf rose to his feet, holding in his hand a small handgun.
“You are falling for my trick yet again Nikola! Stupid sweet Nikola, always seeing best in thing, always believing, but unliked by all teammate, this will be final trick! I am in playoff now, better than Nikola, and now I make sure that Nikola never make playoff!” He cocked the gun and pointed it directly at Nikola’s forehead. “Any last words before my superiority is completed?”
Nikola stood up, slowly, careful not to make any sudden movements. He looked down at the picture in his hands, of him and Jusuf, laughing and smiling, and contrasted it to the deranged man standing in front of him, eyes wide and grin lopsided. He tossed it on the floor, where it landed between them. Jusuf watched it fall, and then stared at it.
“What happened to you, Jusuf? What happened to the man in that picture? What happened to my friend?”
Nurkic straightened up, moving his gaze back to his former teammate. “We were never friend. This is who I always am, always will be. Only stupid Nikola think different.”
Nikola steeled his expression. “That’s a lie, and you know it.” As he said that, he thought he noticed Jusuf’s arm drop just a little bit, his glare become a little less intense. “It doesn’t have to be this way.”
“YES IT DOES! Nikola not understand the pain Jusuf feel, the pain of being second place, but now he is first place, and he intend to keep it that way. FOREVER!” After that final proclamation, Nikola braced for what would surely be a fatal shot. But instead of entering into the permanent world of blackness, he saw through his squinted eyes Jusuf turning the gun on himself.
Nikola lunged, tackling him, as the gun went off with a thunderous crack. Jusuf struggled briefly against the man now laying on top of him, but soon, went limp.