Nuggets center Nikola Jokic is, at just 21 years old, getting very close to becoming a legitimate NBA superstar. This is owed to his unique game, which is cotton candy to NBA fans who prefer their big men to play with a point guard’s touch and vision. Jokic averaged 23.4 points, 10.7 rebounds, and 4.6 assists in January, and he’s the subject of Lee Jenkins’s latest Sports Illustrated profile. There’s a lot of good stuff about Jokic in this profile, but the best parts concern his relationship with his older brothers.

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The elder Jokic brothers, Nemanja and Strahinja, have been fixtures at Nuggets games for some time now. Both are former players themselves, and they are easy to spot behind the Nuggets’ bench (Nemanja is 6-foot-6 and Strahinja is 6-foot-8). During a recent game against the Suns, Altitude Sports reporter Vic Lombardi sat with the two big brothers and basked in their Serbian charm:

There are similar moments of charm in Jenkins’s profile, although I’m not sure if this story from Nikola’s childhood counts among them:

[Nemanja] remembered Nikola mainly as the little kid Strahinja used to terrorize, tossing him from one bed to another in the family’s small apartment, often during heated games on a plastic mini hoop. “He once held down my arms and threw knives all around my head,” Nikola adds, punishment for refusing to climb a tree during a picnic. “That was a little crazy.”

The brothers seem to have a more healthy relationship these days. Jenkins reports that they all live together, along with Nikola’s girlfriend, in a three-bedroom apartment in Denver:

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This time, there is no mansion, no fleet, no yacht. The three brothers live together, with Nikola’s girlfriend, in a three-bedroom apartment in LoDo. They recently hung another mini hoop in the hall. “It’s a little small for us now,” Nikola says, “but we’re still playing one-on-one, taking charges, swearing at each other.” Nemanja and Strahinja attend every Nuggets home game, Strahinja shouting in Serbian, “Bring more energy! Get lower in your stance! Pick up your hands!” Other spectators keep their distance. “People think we look scary, sound scary,” Nemanja says. “But we aren’t that bad. We’re not cursing him out anymore.” Last season, the brothers hit the road several times, but they didn’t want to fly. So they drove their rented Cadillac Escalade from Denver to Los Angeles, Dallas and New York.

As much fun as it is to imagine the three large Jokic boys crammed into an apartment where they spend all day playing nerf basketball, there’s also a bittersweet element to their story. Nemanja is a former friend and teammate of Darko Milicic, and he lived with Milicic during the famous bust’s first few seasons in the league. According to Jenkins, The two spent a lot of time partying while Milicic played for the Pistons and Nemanja played college ball at Detroit Mercy, and Nemanja feels that his lifestyle with Milicic squandered his shot at a real career in basketball.

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This is why Nemanja and Strahinja came to America to live with their little brother, and why they are at every home game offering guidance and encouragement. As Nemanja put it to Jenkins: “I always tell him, ‘You’re living my dream. Don’t take it for granted. Don’t make the mistakes we made.’”

Listen to your big rowdy brothers, Nikola Jokic. They seem like wise dudes.

[Sports Illustrated]