Bulls Big Man Pokes Fun at Nuggets Superstar Nikola Jokic

Chicago Bulls

Getty Nikola Jokic #15 of the Denver Nuggets.

The friendship between Chicago Bulls center Nikola Vucevic and his counterpart on the Denver Nuggets, Nikola Jokic, is alive and well.

“He’s OK,” Vucevic said, per NBC Sports Chicago’s K.C. Johnson. “He’s a stat padder though.”

Johnson was clear to note that Vucevic delivered the comments tongue in cheek even getting a laugh from the gaggle of reporters in attendance. It stands to reason there is no malicious intent behind the words for someone Vucevic has known for years and known of even longer coming from a similar region of the world.

“We’re pretty close off the court,” Vucevic said via NBC Sports in December of 2021, his first full season with the Bulls after being acquired from the Orlando Magic at the trade deadline the year before. “Over the years we’ve gotten to know each other really well and we became pretty close. …We’re from the same area, obviously. Different countries but a lot of things we have in common.”

One of those things is video games.

“I think there’s just a certain bond to be able to come from all the way there and be here and to have roles on your team and have big impact and being able to establish yourself as a player. [It’s] something that, obviously, we cherish and when we get the chance to share it with other guys that are here as well, it means a lot for us.”

Vucevic said Jokic used to reach out to him about adjusting to life in America on top of the NBA as a rookie.

“We have a great relationship. He’s a great player,” Jokić said of Vučević, per Rob Schafer for NBC Sports Chicago after a head-to-head tilt in 2021 which the Bulls won 109-97. “I actually don’t remember how I met him the first time, but I was with him at All-Star (weekend) a couple times, we hung out together. He helped me with some personal stuff. He’s (been) here a long time.”

Balkan Bros on Different Paths

This season has gone vastly different for the NBA’s Balkan fraternity members, a group that also includes former Bulls guard Goran Dragic, Dallas Mavericks superstar Luka Doncic, and Bulls prospect Marko Simonovic.

Vucevic and the Bulls are sitting 12th and outside of the Play-In Tournament after snapping a five-year playoff drought last season. The two-time All-Star’s future in Chicago has come into question as the season has spiraled and he remains without a deal for next season.

Despite mutual interest in returning, Vucevic has also said that he would explore his options this coming offseason and could even look to return to Orlando.

Jokic’s Nuggets are perched atop the Western Conference while the five-time All-Star (and four-time All-NBA selection) has a good chance to win his third straight MVP award. him the fourth player in NBA history to win the award three consecutive times joining Bill Russell, Wilt Chamberlain, and most recently Larry Bird.

“I think he deserves to get another one, the way he’s playing. I think you take him out of that team, it’s not even close to the same team,” Vučević said, per Johnson. “The things that he does, you look at his stats, the efficiency he’s playing at, it’s very impressive.

Bulls Once Had Dreams of Landing Nikola Jokic

It was not just Vucevic – a proud Bulls recruiter – who has ties to Jokic. There was a slight buzz about the possibility Jokic could look to move on from Denver with his contract set to expire after this season.

Bulls vice president of basketball operations Arturas Karnsovas was in the Nuggets’ front office when Jokic was drafted in the second round (41st overall) in 2014. The Bulls and Nuggets made a draft-night trade swapping swingman Gary Harris and center Jusuf Nurkic for forward Doug McDermott and big man Anthony Randolph the same year.

All of that was before Jokic agreed to a five-year, $264 million supermax contract extension.

That is the largest contract in NBA history and comes with a $61 million player option for the 2027-28 season.

“There’s a lot of expectation around the league that Nicola Jokic is happy in Denver, wants to be in Denver long term,” reported Shams Charania on ‘Unfiltered’ with David Kaplan on NBC Sports Chicago in April of 2022.

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