Career SkillsLessons on Leadership

Leadership Lessons from Basketball MVP Nikola Jokić

By Jacquelyn Adams

While I have never claimed to be a sports fan, the occasional bit of sports news still makes its way through my blockade. Previously, we discussed leadership skills displayed during a medical emergency at the Euro 2020 soccer match. This time, the fan-baffling NBA MVP Nikola Jokić found his way onto my radar. It all started with this ESPN interview where the interviewer stated that Jokić was the first MVP to come to the interview without his trophy, and his response was that he didn’t even know where it was. Thus, I started down the fascinating and perplexing rabbit hole of Nikola Jokić’s fantastic work ethic that includes no interest in the accolades. In his words, he is “getting the job done,” which, in this case, is performing at an elite level in the NBA. This man makes one-in-a-million look common and, yet, has no hubris. I won’t lie; it makes my brain break a little. I struggle more with vanity over my pretty standard career than he does with his NBA MVP status. So, join me as we try to understand this enigma of a man.

Parade? No, thank you

Among the baffling Jokić moments was the glorious interview where he was asked if he was excited about the parade that would celebrate his Denver Nuggets winning the NBA championship. Should be an easy “yes,” right? The city celebrates its team’s victory, and you, as the MVP will be treated like a god. Instead, the expression on his face was more like his boss caught him walking out the door three hours early on a Friday. He said, “No, I need to go home,” in response to people wanting to throw him a parade… for being amazing… is anyone else having trouble computing?

But also, it’s kind of even more impressive. It means that all this work he has put in, and all the sacrifices he has made to be one of the very best in his field was for the love of the game. It was never for the accolades. He honestly doesn’t care about them. So often, we are told to be our own hype-person. If no one else will sing your praises, then sing them yourself. Throw yourself a parade. And there can still be a time and place to ensure we and our work are valued. And still… to be able to do the job for the sake of the job. To be fulfilled with or without the trophies and parades. Those are just static on the edges. I think our world would be better with more humility like that.

Show Respect

His humility flows into his treatment of those around him. First, even as the MVP, when asked if he is the best player on his team, he responds that he simply appears to be the best player because he has the ball in his hands a lot, but any other player on the team could be the best player in the game. Then, after winning the championship against the Miami Heat, Jokić did not start celebrating until he hugged or shook hands with every Heat player. He had reached the highest point of his career, and in that moment, he focused on good sportsmanship instead of celebrating. And while this attitude has the potential to rub people the wrong way — perhaps being viewed as “too nice” — it is not that way for Jokić’s teammates. According to Bones Hyland, “He doesn’t care if you go 10-10-10 or 40-10-10. He really doesn’t care; he just wants to win. He doesn’t want to talk about accolades in a locker room. He is a great guy to go talk to.” When they are in the game, in the moment, he is able to remind his teammates to “stay humble” and focus on the game. And, having experienced his humility, he is able to inspire his teammates instead of throwing off the team dynamic.

Am I still baffled as I continue to watch random clips of Jokić’s interviews and videos of his notorious dancing skills (which are another demonstration of his humility)? Yes. I do not have any clear answers as to how this level of skill and humility can be juxtaposed in one person. However, I do have hope. People are confused by him, but we are also drawn to him and fascinated. We are all waiting to see and hear what happens next. Perhaps if we see his example long enough, we, like his teammates, will begin to hear him whispering in our lives, “Stay humble. Focus on the game.” And that, my friends, would be a beautiful thing for us all.


Jacquelyn Adams

Jacquelyn Adams, founder and CEO of Ristole, uses her column to delve into the wild world of leadership. Whether the article is about her days as a Peace Corp volunteer, exploring corporate training, or even grabbing lunch at Chipotle — she will come out with a story and her “top tips.” As she passionately believes in leveraging her platform to share others’ voices, her column welcomes guest bloggers to create a fuller and more diverse pool of experiences for her readership. So, welcome to “Lessons on Leadership” where you never know what the next article will hold: online networking advice, guidelines for creating a joyful workplace, or even puppies. Just keep reading to discover what’s next!

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