The group of Nuggets players walked through the tunnel back to their locker room, high fives and back-slaps proliferating. At the center of the group, and receiving most of the accolades from his teammates, was Nikola Jokic, who was grinning sheepishly. At that moment, everything seemed perfect: the team had won, the Nuggets were still the best team in the West, the Serbian flag had proudly been displayed in the stands, and he had added to his list of triple-doubles. Nothing could deflate his mood as his teammates playfully argued about which nightclubs they wanted the group to hit up.
However, the Nuggets players stopped in their tracks when they got to a point roughly fifty feet from the locker room door. There, on the floor, was a security guard who looked to have been beaten within an inch of his life. A few feet ahead, another one was collapsed against the wall, also severely beaten.
“What’s going on?” Trey Lyles asked in confusion. “Was there an attack?”
“I dunno, but it’s making me anxious standing around out here in the hallway,” replied Malik Beasley. “Let’s get changed and get out of here.” There was a murmuring of agreement to this.
Nikola had a bad feeling about what might be waiting for them inside the locker room, but kept his thoughts to himself. The collective demeanor of the group had already shifted from jubilance to subdued worry; he didn’t want to cause a disagreement and further worsen the mood. Instead, he walked to the front of the group. He would open the door first, see that there was nothing odd inside, and be reassured.
That’s not quite how it happened. Nikola opened the door with his teammates behind him; however, inside was not an empty foyer leading to the showers and lockers. There was somebody there.
“I HATING YOU NIKOLA!” Jusuf Nurkic yelled insanely, his bloodsplattered, askew clothes incriminating him in the injuries to the security personnel outside. “AND NOW…I KILLING YOU!”
“Jusuf, hold on, I-” Nikola began, holding his hands up in a peacekeeping gesture. However, he had to give up on his diplomatic words when Jusuf charged directly at him. Luckily, Jusuf, in his derangement, was stumbling on his feet, and Nikola was able to lower his shoulder and connect it directly with Jusuf’s fast-approaching forehead. The impact caused Jusuf to crumple to the ground. Just like that, the fight was over.
“Nikola is ruinings career…” Jusuf moaned as he stared up at the ceiling and weakly moved his fists in an approximation of punching motions. “But I perservering…Blazers is strong team of character…Nuggets is weak team with wimp Nikola putting many the penis in mouth…”
Jamal Murray stood over the Jusuf’s groggy body and looked at him with a mix of derision and interest. “You’d have thought he’d be over the whole thing by now.”
“I don’t think he ever will,” Nikola said, grabbing his ex-teammate by the armpits and dragging him out into the hallway. “Despite all his antics, what I want most in this world is for him to offer the hand of friendship that I have extended to him. For him to understand that there are no hard feelings anymore.” He looked into Jusuf’s unseeing eyes, not listening to the Bosnian’s slurred babbling. “That’s what I want. But that’s not what Jusuf wants.”
He set down Jusuf in the hallway, then walked back to the locker room door. Before he rejoined his teammates, however, he took one last look at the man. Freshly knocked out, he was more peaceful than Nikola could remember seeing him. He shook his head sadly. “Damn it Jusuf,” he whispered.