LeBron James calls Nikola Jokic "one of the best players ever", is this a rivalry?

Los Angeles Lakers v Denver Nuggets - Game One
Los Angeles Lakers v Denver Nuggets - Game One / Matthew Stockman/GettyImages

Ahead of the first-round NBA playoff matchup between the Denver Nuggets and Los Angeles Lakers, LeBron James was asked about where Nikola Jokic fits in with his storied playoff history against all-time greats. James quickly responded, “he’s one of the best players to ever play this game. It’s that simple.” 

It’s hardly breaking news or some crazy concession from James, he’s saying what most people already recognize. Jokic is about to win his third MVP award and is well-positioned to make a run at a second NBA Finals MVP Award. All this, and Jokic is still just 29 years old. His place among basketball’s all-time greats is secure and still growing.

Are Jokic and James rivals?

But it is fascinating to think about Jokic’s place in LeBron’s story and how he may be taking the mantle as LeBron’s main current NBA rival. James’ career has gotten to the point where it almost reads like a book with different chapters.

Many of those chapters are defined by iconic opponents and rivals whom James faced multiple times in the playoffs. Players like Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett, Tim Duncan and Kawhi Leonard, Steph Curry and the Warriors of course.

But with the Lakers and Warriors both petering out a bit in the last couple of years, it was fair to wonder if that book was coming to an end with no more chapters to come. But this quote from James has made me think and decide that Jokic and the Nuggets are now worthy of a chapter at the end of this story.

This is now the third meeting between Jokic and the Nuggets and LeBron and the Lakers. First, the Lakers beat the Nuggets on their way to a title in the bubble. Denver was still clearly on the rise at the time, and they weren’t really ready for the moment. But then last year the teams faced off again in the Western Conference Finals and Jokic and the Nuggets obviously turned the table with a sweep en route to their own championship.

And now they are facing off in the rubber match, a third playoff series where both teams have true finals aspirations. I think we will look back on this as a rivalry of sorts and one that may define the final chapter of LeBron’s career. It doesn’t seem like the Nuggets or Jokic are going anywhere, and the way LeBron is playing, whether it’s in LA or elsewhere, it seems like he has a few more runs left in him.