Nikola Jokic was listlessly taking part in the customary postgame ritual of fist-bumping and hugging players on the opposing team when Joel Embiid came up to him. However, when Jokic did quickly did his one-armed hug and tried to move away, Joel stopped Nikola from escaping by clamping his arm on Nikola’s back.
“I’m gonna tell you something really weird,” Joel whispered into Nikola’s ear, and the intimacy of the moment made Nikola think of some very strange things indeed. However, the fleeting thought that Joel was about to declare everlasting love for him was quickly dispelled with Joel’s next words. “Your buddy Jusuf is gonna pay me a hundred thousand dollars to beat you up. ‘I hatings Nikola Jokic’, he kept telling me.”
“What?” Nikola exclaimed, his loud voice failing to match the volume of Joel’s whispered words.
“He said he had a game tonight and couldn’t do it himself,” Joel whispered in reply. “I’m honored that he thought of me, but I don’t really feeling like getting in any fights tonight.”
“So then just don’t fight me,” Nikola replied. “See you around.” He tried again to walk away from Joel, but was again prevented from doing so.
“If you shove me right now and I chase you back to the locker room, I’ll give you half the money,” Joel offered.
Nikola paused to think about this offer. Money was of no concern to him thanks to his large contract, but most of the money was kept away from him by his financial advisor. The prospect of fifty thousand dollars of no-strings-attached spending money was very tempting. He could build that new PC he wanted without having to explain to his advisor why he needed a two-terabyte SSD. Didn’t that old dude have a porn collection? And just a shove was unlikely to warrant a suspension and cost him more game checks. “Deal,” he said. “Ready?”
Catching everybody in the arena off-guard, Nikola shoved Joel with all his might, then turned and ran towards the tunnel.
“I’m gonna kick your ass, Nikola!” Joel bellowed as he fake-stumbled from the shove, letting Nikola get a few-second head start towards the locker room. Then, he pursued.
Nikola made sure that he stayed in Joel’s sight-lines as he ran down the hallway, which was lined with security personnel. It occurred to him that he had to somehow get out of public view, so he threw open a door that he was pretty sure was the closet they kept the halftime props in. Just after he had closed the door behind him, the door opened and shut quickly as Joel entered. Joel then locked the door so that concerned arena staff couldn’t get in.
“We didn’t think this through very well,” Nikola said.
“Forget about that for a moment,” Joel replied, getting out his phone. “Lie down there like you’re knocked out. I’ll snap a picture and send it to this Bosnian maniac so he can Venmo me the cash.”
Nikola got down on the ground and, after clearing out some space on the floor, lay spread-eagled on the tile. “Like this?”
“Gotta get some drool in there so it looks like I really decked you,” Joel said, aiming his phone for the picture. Nikola forced a small amount of spit out the side of his mouth. “Perfect,” Joel continued as he took multiple pictures. “Can’t wait to treat myself to a new custom-built gaming PC.”
“You too?” Nikola said with a laugh, accepting Joel’s help in getting off the ground. He was about to continue the conversation by telling Joel about all the games he had bought during the Steam Winter Sale, but was interrupted by the sound of somebody jiggling the door handle. He reached over to open it, but his hand was slapped away by Joel.
“We can’t both walk out of here, or Jusuf will know we didn’t actually fight,” Joel hissed. “Hide behind that mascot costume and I’ll run out. When everybody starts chasing me to stop my deranged search for you, you can sneak out.”
Nikola complied, folding his body behind the oversized Rocky costume. Joel opened the door to a crowd of concerned-looking people. “He’s not in here! Where is he? Where is he? I’m gonna kill him!” he shouted, pushing past the group to continue his “chase” down the hallway. Once everybody had left the area, Nikola cautiously stepped out into the now-empty corridor. There, he was suddenly struck by a thought: for the first time in his years-long, one-sided feud with Jusuf Nurkic, Nikola didn’t mind the outcome of their confrontation.
“You know, Jusuf, sometimes you’re not so bad,” Nikola said to himself before continuing on his way to the locker room.