It may be cliche to say, but Nikola Jokic’s 2022 MVP presentation felt like it was straight out of an inspirational commercial.
There was the picturesque setting — Jokic’s horse stables in his hometown of Sombor, Serbia, striking for its simplicity and distinct European vibes.
The background soundtrack — traditional and singsongy, evoking a jovial atmosphere with its rhythmic beat.
And of course an intriguing central figure — a 6-foot-11 Serbian basketball player that’s unlike any other NBA star due to his on-court brilliance, seemingly laissez-faire attitude to the sport and passionate devotion to his beloved harness racing horse Dream Catcher.
But of course, this wasn’t the next out-of-the-box marketing ploy.
It was real life, a truly human moment that was beautiful, heartwarming and moving, all at the same time.
Nikola Jokic: From 2nd-round pick to unlikely MVP
It was also somewhat surprising.
Essentially since the last month of the 2021-2022 regular season, it was an open secret that Jokic would win his second consecutive MVP award, putting him in a select group of elite Hall of Famers and current greats.
Yet while Jokic likely knew he was going to win, seeing the Nuggets contingent with his family opened his emotional core.
Then Nuggets team president Tim Connelly, coach Mike Malone, assistant coach Ogi Stojakovic and strength coach Felipe Eichenberger are like his family too. And here they were, in his hometown, at his stables.
That Nuggets nucleus all believed in him and their belief motivated Jokic and propelled him to become a future Hall of Famer that has revolutionized the center position. A destiny that is made even more amazing when you consider his entry into the NBA conscious during the 2014 NBA Draft.
On that auspicious night, there was no tailor-made suit for Jokic or coveted green room invite. And there certainly wasn’t any handshake with a smiling Adam Silver from the center stage.
Instead, there was Taco Bell and the Quesarito.
When the Nuggets drafted Jokic No. 41 overall in the second round of the 2014 Draft, his selection was such a nonentity for the ESPN broadcast that they opted to use the moment as a commercial break. And with Jokic’s name flashing across the bottom of the screen, a commercial for Taco Bell’s then-new Quesarito aired.
The ad has since become synonymous with Jokic’s career.
Nikola Jokic and the NBA Draft Taco Bell commercial
During his mercurial rise, it became an entertaining factoid. But now that he has garnered back-to-back MVP awards, the commercial adds a mythical-like quality to his legacy, acting as a reminder of how truly far he’s come.
“I was sleeping when they drafted me,” Jokic says. “I didn’t even think about coming [over]. From playing in Europe and [then coming] here, I think it’s a nice journey. And hopefully, it’s not going to stop.”
Amusingly enough, Anil Raman’s and Mary Roth’s perspective on the commercial only adds to the legend of the Jokic-Taco Bell connection.
As the two lead actors in the commercial, Roth and Raman were actually unaware of its NBA infamy until quite recently.
Roth only found out when she was contacted for this story, finding it surprising and very comical.
Raman also just found out as a friend sent him a message about it shortly after Jokic was named the 2021-2022 MVP. A casual basketball fan, Raman immediately did a more in-depth look at Jokic and is just amazed by his footnote in the Nuggets superstar’s story.
“[The commercial] is something you don’t really think about,” Raman says. “You shoot your work and it runs. For it to come back years later and be part of something so monumental…it’s just really nice to be part of Jokic’s legacy, if you will.”
Jokic’s journey resonates deeply with Raman. As a native of Trinidad and Tobago, Raman comes from small-town roots like Jokic and is now a working actor in Los Angeles. Which if you think about it, is exactly what Jokic did, except on a much different stage.
“Jokic came from a small town in Serbia and is now in the NBA, “Raman says. “I come from a small island in Trinidad and I’m now in commercials. This is the land of opportunity.
“Jokic came here, has proven himself in the NBA and has put Serbia on the map. And not that I’m doing anything huge for Trinidad, but people there know about my acting and on a micro level, I’m putting my country on the map.”
Raman’s pride for Trinidad and how he perceives his connection to Jokic is a fascinating parallel to draw. It speaks to the folk-like immigrant story of coming to America with nothing and then unlocking your full potential thanks to the country’s opportunities.
That’s exactly what Jokic did.
He’s an immigrant hero to Raman because of what he’s accomplished. And quite amazingly, this movie-like hero origin story all started because of Taco Bell.
It’s fit for a sequel, something Raman is definitely a fan of and Jokic seems quite ready to star in.
“Hopefully,” Jokic says jokingly. “I’m gonna have some percentage from the Taco Bell.”
Despite repeated attempts, Taco Bell has not responded for a comment about this story.