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Nuggets Nikola Jokic has an "awe shucks" when he is presented his All-Star jersey before the game against the Lakers. Jokic is headed to the All-Star game in Chicago for the second year in a row. He will be playing on LeBron James team. The Nuggets played the LA Lakers on Wednesday night. Before the game, the Lakers were in first place in the Western Division and the Nuggets in second place. (Photo by Jerilee Bennett, The Gazette)

DENVER — Welcome back to the United States of America, Joker.

We seriously missed you.

Say, inquiring Nuggets fans want to know: How was that time after you tested positive for the coronavirus?

“It was not difficult at all. I was home,” All-Star center Nikola Jokic said Tuesday. “I was quarantined for 14-15 days. We have a little private house. I was with my girlfriend, so it was actually kind of a vacation for us. I work out every day. I enjoy every day. So it was actually not that bad.”

A world-class athlete who was asymptomatic was ready to ball before, during and after a COVID-19 test in Serbia came back positive. How fantastic is that news? Please, tell us more. Lord knows we could use the optimism.

“I need(ed) to do a test before I go to the airport so I can leave the country. If I was not coming here, I would not do a test, so it was kind of weird. I was feeling good. I was feeling normal,” Jokic said on a Zoom call from the NBA’s bubble on the Disney World campus. “I was a little surprised. I was (having) kind of a normal day routine. I had a workout and I had everything. They called and they say I am positive. It was kind of surprising. I called everybody (with the Nuggets) and that said, ‘It’s fine. Your health is the most important thing,’ which is right.”

The Nuggets regained their franchise centerpiece, their $148 million man, in plenty of time for the NBA restart July 30. If we’re lucky, Jokic's own experience with COVID-19 can spread much-needed perspective on the effects of the coronavirus on different demographics. You know, science and nuance. The whole thing has morphed into the Bogeyman with little to no detail about whom it actually and usually affects.

This is bound to crash and burn a long list of doomsday dreams, but here goes anyway: people under the age of 34 account for 0.8% of all COVID-19 deaths, according to the CDC. (Drop it to age 24 and below, if you're wondering about high school sports, and that number dips to 0.15%.) Break it down to 24 and under and, as of Wednesday, there had been 188 deaths, in a nation of roughly 331,000,000, attributed to COVID-19.

Could the worst possible thing happen? Of course. But it would be extremely rare.

Throw in the exhaustive health protocols implemented by pro sports leagues and college athletic departments, and the physical condition of high-level athletes, and it’s impossible to argue with this statement from Nuggets center Mason Plumlee: "There’s not a safer place probably to be right now than this bubble."

What about the coaches? Those are the men and women I feel for. But you can't take a stinky breath these days without being scolded to wear a mask. So it stands to reason masks are effective. And if there are underlying conditions they must be taken seriously, sit this one out, because this thing is no joke within certain parameters. 

The argument for returning college sports is getting stronger, not weaker. Take the above numbers for the CU Buffs, for example. Four student-athletes tested positive for the coronavirus back in June. Monday, over a month later, those four athletes were good to go and CU athletes showed no new positive tests, according to athletic director Rick George. Begs the question: Does anyone truly believe college athletes would be healthier somewhere other than a campus that has provided them with over 4,000 meals and daily testing since June 17, such as CU-Boulder?

“We have some of the brightest minds in the country working on our procedures,” George said Monday.

Back to Jokic. The rumors are true. No wonder the franchise savior couldn’t wait to get to Florida; big fella looks beach ready. Catch the Joker poolside at an Orlando resort near you.

“I think I am not supposed to tell you my pounds, my weight,” Joker joked. “It’s a team policy. I like that.”

Consider the Nuggets thrilled their franchise cornerstone underscored his commitment to an unusual postseason by taking seriously his three-month hiatus from the team. His weight loss also brought to mind a conversation I had with a pair of Portland Trail Blazers after their playoff series last year. Seven-footers Zach Collins and Meyers Leonard agreed the sheer size of Jokic was a huge asset. Will his transformed body be a bonus or a burden? 

“Maybe I’m going to surprise everybody. Maybe I’m going to not be good. We will see,” Jokic said.

Sure will. Awesome to have you back, Joker.

Stick around the bubble for a while, will ya?

(Contact Gazette sports columnist Paul Klee at paul.klee@gazette.com or on Twitter at @bypaulklee.)


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