The Joy of Giving a Shit
I’ve been thinking a lot about something Nikola Jokić did in last night’s game against the Miami Heat. I’m not talking about the moment Jokić shoved Markieff Morris violently in the back so hard that Morris almost had to get carried off the court on a stretcher. I’m talking about a moment that was much quieter and seemingly less significant.
About halfway through the first quarter, Jimmy Butler went to the line to shoot two free throws. After the first free throw, as you can see in the gif above, Jokić had the referee stop everything for a moment so he could tell Jeff Green to move to the other side of the foul line. It’s possible I’m wrong, but I’m assuming Jokić was working under the assumption that he would be able to box out Bam Adebayo himself, and that Aaron Gordon might need help boxing out P.J. Tucker?
I was charmed by this little moment on a few different levels. For one thing, it’s the first quarter of a regular season game in November; this isn’t exactly what anyone would think of as a high-leverage moment. For another thing, Jimmy Butler is a really, really good free throw shooter—like 84%—so it’s not like there’s a good chance a miss is coming. Finally, I love the fact that Jokić had to interrupt the ref to make sure this could happen. There’s even a little blip of a moment where Jokić considers that it might be too late to do this, but then goes ahead and does it anyway.
Maybe it’s weird to write this on a day while we’re all waiting to find out how long Jokić is going to be suspended for shoving Morris in the back (by the time you read this, maybe we’ll know the answer), but I’ve been thinking a lot in the early part of this season about the ways Jokić has of creating the possibility of joy on the basketball court. At one point during this game, Jokić threw three great passes that led to dunks for his teammates in the span of about three minutes of game action. Everything about his game is so joyous—the shot-making, the passing, the canny-but-clumsy way he has of tipping rebounds to himself or just moving around the court.
I don’t always think of Jokić as a stickler though. Something about the wild improvisation of his game makes me think he’s not always locked in on the little stuff. It kind of spooked me, almost, to see him move Jeff Green across the lane for what would almost certainly be a meaningless free throw box out. That’s the kind of shit I expect out of, say, Kyle Lowry or Chris Paul. Which is not to say that Lowry and Paul play without joy. But more than joy, they play with a kind of obsessive impulse towards litigation—a foot-stomping whininess that is part-in-parcel to giving a shit sometimes.
With Jokić, it’s just different. Maybe more like Magic Johnson or something? An intense attention to detail that arises from joy and not so much from the more brutal parts of competition. Jokić is certainly not immune to a good deal of foot-stomping whininess himself, of course, now that I think about it. I guess all of these things exist as their own individual continua; I guess all of these things end up arranging themselves to form the off-centered asterisk of any given human being’s makeup. We meet in the middle of ourselves. I don’t know. I just know that it felt moving to me to begin to consider the possible joys of fastidiousness. The world is a mess, and it’s nice to tidy it up a little.