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Nikola Jokic and Denver Nuggets have a 97% chance of winning the NBA Finals with a 3-1 lead over Miami.
Barring a repeat of history in 2016, when the Cavs overcome a 3-1 deficit, the Nuggets will win the title and Jokic The Finals MVP.
A championship win would derail the preferred discussion. More challenging it would be for the sports media to declare Jokic a postseason choker, a stat-padder, and not the best player in the NBA — categories that the media has used to degrade his rise.
For those reasons, Ringer podcast host Ryen Russillo expects the media to move the goalpost, to find new ways to undermine Jokic after he captures his first ring.
“If Denver ends up winning this thing, which I’d expect they will, all of a sudden the rules change,” Russillo said on The Ringer, “and we’re allowed to talk about [Jokić] in the way we always should have talked about him … it’ll be, ‘Does he have a chance to be this?
“We move the goalposts on players… [and] you have to raise the stakes. Once everything becomes accepted, ‘accepted’ isn’t a good topic anymore. It has to be, ‘Could there potentially be pushback from this?,’ and that’s kind of the game.”
Jokic would not be the first player on whom the media moves the goalpost following his coronation.
Talk show hosts questioned LeBron James’ championship pedigree before he won a title in 2012. Then, the conversation swiftly tilted toward, “Can he do it again?” Then, “Can he do it without a super team.” To now, “Can he top Michael Jordan?” (The answer is no.)
But the goalpost will be moved in a more negative direction for Jokic. While LeBron has critics, the media at large fawns over him.
The sports media does not fawn over Jokic. As Dan Le Batard put it, Jokic is “hated.”
We discussed in a recent column the racial undertones of the Jokic bashings. In short, a majority-black NBA TV media is averse to proclaiming a white player the best of in a majority-black league.
Kendrick Perkins is the most obvious offender, though far from the extent.
Jokic will not become the media darling of, say, Steph Curry or Patrick Mahomes, his NFL counterpart.
Russillo is right, the goalpost will be moved before pundits who have long doubted Jokic have the time to admit they were wrong.
ESPN spent the past year arguing Joel Embiid is a better center than Jokic. That is no longer a feasible argument after this postseason.
It’s most likely the press will go on the defense of Jokic’s standing among historical NBA big men. In fact, ESPN’s Mark Jones is already back to sharing negative tweets about Jokic, this time asking Twitter followers not to consider Jokic among the all-time greats.
The sports conversation is rigged. Twitter reaction dedicates who’s in vogue and who’s a target. Pundits rarely change their opinion, no matter the developing facts.
It’s why networks heap praise upon Lamar Jackson no matter his shortcomings and injury history. As we explained, Jokic is the inverse of Jackson.
Television personalities and journalists have egos too large to admit they mislabeled someone. They depicted Jokic as an unathletic blub who lacks the physicality to hold up against the fierce competition.
Thereby they are reluctant to acknowledge that he put forth statistically one of the greatest NBA postseasons on record, one of the most efficient three-year runs in decades, and trails only LeBron and Magic Johnson in all-time playoff triple-doubles.
Stephen A. Smith called Nikola Jokic a “big tub of lard” last week. Making his dominance all the more impressive.
Jokic is the unlikeliest superstar in NBA history, on a trajectory few starts in history have matched.
Perhaps one day, when the media is less focused on one’s race and retweets, Jokic will get his due.