LAKEWOOD, Colo. — To 14-year-old Suza Kokotovic, Nuggets star Nikola Jokic isn’t just a player. He’s a hero.
The signs of her fandom are everywhere in her family’s Lakewood, Colorado home. A collection of No. 15 jerseys, photos and other Nuggets memorabilia are displayed throughout the house.
Even the family dog, Rubble, is a fan.
Suza wears No. 15 on her youth basketball team, and, when Denver7’s Anne Trujillo spoke to her, even her fingernails were painted with Jokic’s jersey number.
Nuggets’ Jokic is a hero to this 14-year-old Serbian superfan
Suza’s mother, Jelena, told us Suza has some special needs and is very involved with Special Olympics Colorado.
So, when Suza was picked to be a Nugget for a day – which meant courtside seats along with spending the day at Ball Arena, shooting baskets, meeting Nuggets mascot Rocky and then meeting her hero – it meant the memory had to be documented in a scrapbook in her room.
“She’s just our star, she had the best night of her life I think,” Jelena said. “You can just see the look of you know, ‘Oh my gosh, this is my idol’ when she met him. So it was really sweet.”
Suza tells us she loves Jokic because he’s “tall and cute.” But it’s also because, like Jokic, she is Serbian.
And The Joker’s hero status runs deep in Suza’s family, and in Colorado’s Serbian community.
“And anywhere you go, like within our community, whether it be church or something, if they’re playing, everyone’s talking about him,” Jelena said.
Suza, whether she would admit it on camera or not, is bilingual. Her parents and grandparents came to Colorado as refugees in the 1990s, when civil war tore apart the former Yugoslavia.
“We came in ‘95 and my dad was in a concentration camp,” Jelena said.
“Where we were born and lived, we were minority Christians,” Jelena’s husband, Sinisha, said. “So, we had to leave.”
Over the years, following Serbians in the NBA – and those playing for the Nuggets – has helped the Kokotovic family feel at home.
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“When you see an I-C at the end of anybody’s name, it brings a jolt of [excitement] and whatnot because they are eastern European,” Jelena said.
The Kokotovic family will be proudly watching the NBA Finals, and the man many consider a role model and a hero to their homeland.
“I’m just glad that it’s somebody that’s so humble,” Jelena said. “That’s what I hope to show my kids – be humble, be kind. Show gratitude for even the smallest of things.”
“I’m proud of someone that came from the same country where I came from, to this land of opportunity, and he’s become successful,” Sinisha said.
As for Suza, she has one request for the man she says is as tall as her roof: Please stay in Denver, and never leave.
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