DENVER — The 2020 NBA champion will be unlike one we've ever seen.
After all, a winner has never been crowned in an empty arena due to a global pandemic.
But given the circumstances, Denver Nuggets head coach Michael Malone believes whoever wins it all might be the greatest champion in league history.
"There's been this ongoing dialogue and conversation about whoever wins it this year there will be an asterisk next to their name. I don't buy that at all. If you're able to go into a bubble, to be isolated from your friends and family, to have no home court advantage, to have a league interruption of four months and you're able to spend 90 days and come out of there a champion? I think this will be the toughest championship ever won," Malone said in a conference call with local media on Wednesday afternoon.
To win that title, Denver will obviously need its best player healthy and performing at a high level. Multiple reports had Nuggets star Nikola Jokic testing positive for the coronavirus in his home country of Serbia last week, and unable to travel back to the United States. Malone provided a welcomed update on Denver's best player.
"Nikola feels great. We're working on getting him back here. Next Tuesday when we depart for Orlando the hope and expectation is that Nikola Jokic will be with us on that plane. From everything I've heard and talked to him, he feels great, he feels fine and is excited to get back," Malone said.
The head coach also shared some thoughts on everything happening in the country and the team's responsibility to shed light on those issues. He know the players might not be entirely focused on basketball.
"I think all of our players have a lot on their mind, a lot on their hearts right now. You have the pandemic which is coming back in full force around the country, and in Florida where we're going it's becoming the epicenter. You have the fight for social and racial justice and reforms with the police, all those different matters going on," Malone said.
"I think it's important for our players to understand the platform that we'll have in Orlando. We are not going to allow our playing in games to take away from that fight, that messaging and that conversation," he continued.
Malone also noted how tough it will be for players and coaches to be away from their families. In particular, should the Nuggets make it all the way to the NBA Finals, they won't see their significant others and children for more than 90 days.
Finally, Malone indicated he doesn't expect any members of the team to opt out of playing, but said she anyone feel unsafe or need to be with their family and not play, he would offer his full support.
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