DENVER (AP) — Nikola Jokic rode atop a firetruck with people who mean the world to him — his teammate Jamal Murray, his family — and the NBA trophy.
Jokic and the Denver Nuggets soaked in the moment and were soaked, too, by champagne spray on Thursday during a parade through downtown Denver to celebrate their first NBA title.
His young daughter, Ognjena, stole the show as she sat in front of him on the firetruck, at times wearing Jokic’s championship hat. Jokic turned in some big assists, too, shielding her from champagne showers.
And to think, Jokic was more concerned about when he could return home to Sombor, Serbia, than attending the parade. The player known as “Joker” changed his tune following the festivities.
“This is amazing,” Jokic said. “We’re all going to remember this our whole lives.”
Near the end of the parade route, an officer was struck by a firetruck and suffered a serious leg injury, Denver Chief of Police Ron Thomas said at a news conference. The officer was in serious and stable condition. Later in the day and after the parade, a shooting took place in the downtown area that injured two people. Thomas said the police didn’t believe the incident was associated with the celebration. It follows a mass shooting in downtown Denver after the Nuggets clinched the title Monday night. The shooting was likely sparked by a drug deal gone wrong, according to police.
The Nuggets capped off an impressive postseason by beating the Miami Heat in the Finals in Game 5. The Nuggets finished 16-4 in the playoffs, which was tied for the second-best mark by an NBA champion since the first round was expanded to best-of-seven in 2003. San Antonio also was 16-4 in 2007, and Golden State went 16-1 in 2017.
“It’s hitting me right now,” said coach Michael Malone, who was choking up as he was interviewed shortly after climbing off his firetruck for the parade. “This is an amazing experience.
“I’ve got a crazy idea,” added Malone, who was wearing a shirt that read “Put this in your pipe and smoke it” with a picture of the NBA trophy under it. “Let’s do this again. I want to be on another float. I want to be at another parade and do this thing again.”
This title and this parade is a tip of the cap to the team’s ABA roots. It’s also a tribute to all the players who ever wore the Nuggets’ iconic rainbow uniforms or any other version of the jersey.
There were so many scenes to absorb. There was rookie Christian Braun tossing his shirt into the crowd. Veteran DeAndre Jordan mingling with the fans, giving them high-fives. Murray signing a painting of himself. And Kentavious Caldwell-Pope playing the role of TV broadcaster when he interviewed teammate Aaron Gordon.
“KCP, reporting live,” he said, turning to Gordon on the Denver 7 broadcast. “How does it feel to be a champion?”
“You would know, champ,” Gordon responded to Caldwell-Pope.
Caldwell-Pope was the lone Nuggets player to have earned a championship, courtesy of his title with the Los Angeles Lakers in 2020.
That is, until now.
“We really did this,” said Murray, who returned to elite form this season after missing all of 2021-22 as he recovered from a torn ACL. “We champs for life — champions for life.”
Twenty miles away from the party downtown, the Broncos wrapped up their offseason program Thursday in relative isolation. Veteran safety Kareem Jackson said the Nuggets’ championship inspires them.
“Yeah, definitely seeing another team in the same city win it all, and those guys had a great year. It’s definitely encouraging for us. We definitely want to do the same thing,” Jackson said.
Jokic is coming off an historic playoff performance, where he became the first player to lead the league in total points (600), rebounds (269) and assists (190) in a single postseason. The two-time NBA MVP added more hardware to his resume, too, capturing the Finals MVP.
He had that trophy next to him, too. Jokic momentarily misplaced it Monday night in the chaos of winning a title.
Jokic was called up to the microphone to speak and serenaded with thunderous chants of “MVP,” “MVP” from the crowd.
“Ok, ok, ok, ok,” he said to quiet them down. “Thank you. Thank you, though.”
With the season now officially closed, Jokic will soon head home to spend time with his family and return to his other passion — horse racing. He’s hoping to make it back in time to attend a harness race on Sunday.
This is the second straight June the city has held a parade. The Colorado Avalanche were the guests of honor last year after hoisting the Stanley Cup.