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Nikola Jokic Plays Basketball as if It’s Water Polo

  • September 22, 2020

“You would think he’s M.V.P. of Spikeball,” Stojakovic said of Jokic.

At the same time, Jokic’s proclivity for palming the basketball is one of the sharpest parallels that water polo practitioners draw when they watch him on the court. One-handed passes. One-handed rebounds. One-handed floaters. One-handed dribble handoffs. Jokic also has the habit of holding — and sometimes waving — the ball above and behind his head with one arm as he fends off his defender with the other. He might as well be treading water while he does it.

In water polo, no one besides the goalie is allowed to use two hands on the ball. It is the rough equivalent of a double dribble.

Manucher Ghaffari, 64, the founder and head coach of Rocky Mountain Neptunes Water Polo Club, a youth club based in Boulder, Colo., noted other similarities between the two sports: press and zone defenses, counter attacks that are like fast breaks, the vital role that the center plays and the importance of passing.

“But to be able to make such accurate passes with one hand, that’s unusual,” Ghaffari said. “Not many basketball players can do that.”

The court-length passes stand out to Brian Clark, 59, who also plays for the Denver Water Polo Club. Most basketball players do a big windup with a motion that includes a step forward with the opposite leg and a huge follow through the throwing arm. Not Jokic, whose lower half remains still as he whips the ball, his hips and core generating all his power.

“He’s standing there, he’s got his chest up and he’s got his arm straight back,” Clark said, “and then just does a boom! And that absolutely is a water polo move.”

Water polo people can be territorial when it comes to Jokic, especially when those water polo people are from Denver.

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