Nikola Jokic slung his bag over his shoulder with a sigh and started the walk from the visitor’s locker room to where the team bus was waiting to take them to the airport. They should have been returning to Denver as heroes; instead, they were going back to their home arena with one more game still to win.
Lost in his thoughts of how he could have played better and how he could have better supported his teammates, Nikola didn’t realize until too late that there was an unexpected person lying in wait in a disused corridor. As Nikola walked by, this man leaped from his hiding spot to ambush Nikola, screaming a phrase in mangled English that he was all too familiar with:
“I HATING YOU NIKOLA!”
Nikola was quick enough to avoid Jusuf Nurkic’s tackle by stepping to the side. Jusuf flumped loudly on the floor in a way that surely would aggravate his broken leg, but he was on his feet again quickly. Nikola thought about running away, but then decided he wanted to hear whatever fabricated reason Jusuf had for being angry with him. “What’s going on now, Jusuf?” he asked.
“Vlach magic spell which I casting on you to ruinings career is no success,” Jusuf answered, and Nikola was reminded of their meeting a week ago where Jusuf had attempted to use old Serbian “magic” to curse him with bad luck. Jusuf wasn’t done talking. “What if evil Vlach spell actually havings opposite effect on stupid Nikola?” he continued, sounding immensely worried that he might have been the person who had caused Nikola to score a career high in points. “What if…Nikola usings own powers of Vlach magic to reversing spells of Jusuf?”
“That’s right Jusuf,” Nikola agreed, smirking as he saw Jusuf’s eyes grow wide with fright. “My powers of magic are too great. There was no chance of your weak spells doing anything against my own indomitable sorcery, other than perhaps aiding me in my goals.” This was, of course, a complete lie; Nikola personally didn’t believe that magic of any sort existed outside the mind of its practitioners. Certainly, the ancestral magic practiced by the Vlach people of eastern Serbia was only a folk tradition.
Jusuf looked at his hands as if they were the source of his weak “magic”. “But…the counsel of the Vlach witch was that my magic would being strong as ox.”
“I will make you suffer for the curse you placed on me, however ineffective it may have been,” Nikola said in a booming voice that made Jusuf shrink away. When Jusuf turned to get away from his foe, Nikola stuck a foot out to trip him. Jusuf again fell to the floor, and now his expression was one of pure terror.
“I’m cursing you now!” Nikola said, feeling slightly bad for what he was doing but relishing the rare chance to get payback on Jusuf. He said some vaguely magical-sounding words in Serbian and stood over Jusuf with his hands on Jusuf’s chest.
“NO! NOOOOO! AAAAAAAHHHHH!” Jusuf wailed. “Stoppings now, Nikola! Stoppings!”
Nikola continued the act for another half minute before complying with Jusuf’s request. “Now you are cursed by the evil witchery of the Vlach people, a power reserved for Serbs only and not Bosniaks.” He started walking again towards the team bus, and when Jusuf desperately grabbed onto his ankle to keep him from walking, he just shook it off and continued.
Jusuf seemed near tears. “NO! PLEASE NIKOLA, PLEASE REMOVING CURSE OF ME! I’M AFRAID!” But Nikola was tired of dealing with the emotionally-exhausting, dangerously unpredictable Jusuf, so he didn’t slow down. Even when the screams turned into sobs, steadily getting quieter with distance, Nikola didn’t stop.
As he got on the bus, Nikola winced when a particularly tortured, faraway “NIKOLA!” interrupted the subdued mood of the bus. “Damn it Jusuf,” Nikola said under his breath before taking an empty seat. What Jusuf didn’t understand was that, even if Nikola had used Vlach magic to perform well in the game, none of it mattered without a win for the team.
“Is somebody yelling your name?” Malik Beasley asked from across the aisle.
“I don’t hear anything,” Nikola said. “Probably a drunk fan. Let’s get going.”