Nikola Jokić continued his historic postseason on Monday with a dominant NBA Finals debut in the Nuggets’ 104–93 Game 1 win over the Heat. And, apparently, the impressive performance was enough to earn the two-time MVP a special stamp of approval from the legendary Shaquille O’Neal.
The Nuggets star engaged in few memorably fun exchanges with the Hall of Fame center during the NBA TV post-game show following a victory where he earned his ninth-playoff triple-double double.
During his appearance, Jokić was asked by Grant Hill who he modeled his game after growing up, leading him to jokingly cite the one and only Diesel despite the fact that O’Neal’s smashmouth style and Jokić’s passing prowess and finesse are hardly a one-to-one comparison.
“I think it’s Shaq,” Jokic said before erupting into laughter along with the NBA TV crew.
“Means a lot. Thank you, brother,” O’Neal replied with a smile.
.@realgranthill33: "Growing up overseas, who were the guys that you wanted to pattern your game after?"— NBA TV (@NBATV) June 2, 2023
Jokić: "I think it's Shaq."@SHAQ: "Means a lot. Thank you, brother." 🤣 pic.twitter.com/KFIArUrvrq
Towards the end of the interview, O’Neal, who’s notorious for being tough on today’s big men, seized a chance to praise Jokić after watching the 28-year-old notch another impressive outing with a 27-point, 10-rebound and 14-assist night in 40 minutes.
“One last thing, I don’t give a lot of props to a lot of big guys, but I give you all the props in the world, brother. Very, very, very, impressive to watch,” he said.
“Thank you, Shaq, that means alot,” Jokić replied.
After joking with Charles Barkley about his famously petty ways, O’Neal took his admiration a step further by “officially inducting” Jokić into the unofficial “Big Man Alliance.”
“I give it up to you, big man, great game. And you know what? You are now a member of the Big Man Alliance,” said O’Neal as he waved his arms to simulate knighting Jokić.
Given Denver’s success this postseason and in recent years, Jokić, clearly, figures to gain even more respect from his peers and more of the game’s greats as he continues his impactful run.
And, judging by Thursday’s Game 1, Jokić appears to only just be getting started, with the Nuggets now three wins away from their first-ever NBA championship.