It takes a special player to win a second MVP trophy in a row.

Well on his way to winning his first MVP trophy in 2021, Denver Nuggets center Nikola Jokić was experiencing an ascension into superstardom. He improved in just about every way from the season before, and his unique play style captivated the hearts and minds of basketball fans in the Mile High City and around the globe. The Nuggets season didn’t end in a championship, but Jokić elevated the team to new heights. Only injuries precluded the Nuggets from capitalizing that year.

Fast forward to the 2021-22 season, and Jokić and the Nuggets were already operating at a disadvantage. Star point guard Jamal Murray was to miss most if not all of the season and scoring forward Michael Porter Jr. was lost for the season after just nine games of his own. The two players combined to average over 40 points per game in their last healthy season, a substantial and nearly insurmountable loss for just about any team.

That is, unless your team has Nikola Jokić.

The Nuggets superstar followed up his MVP campaign in the 2020-21 season with something even more special in the 2021-22 season. He raised his statistical averages in points, rebounds, steals, and blocks per game. He somehow improved his game, taking it to new heights and in different directions than many thought possible. No star point guard to feed you the ball? Just run pick and roll yourself. No floor spacing without the 6-foot-10 shooter standing on the perimeter? Just power through two defenders on the way to tough baskets in the paint. Teammates struggling to score by themselves? Serve them up some dimes on a silver platter.

At times, it felt like it was simply Jokić against the world. He never complained, though. If anything, he urged Murray and Porter to take their time in the recovery process. In the meantime, Jokić repeatedly ran through the brick wall that was NBA defenses loading up to stop his incredible array or scoring and playmaking moves. Very few teams succeeded.

The Nuggets navigated murky waters throughout the 2021-22 campaign with Jokić operating as their North Star. Despite the lengthy injury absences from top scorers, the Nuggets managed to earn a playoff spot in the final week of the season, avoiding the play-in tournament.

In the same game the Nuggets clinched a playoff berth, Jokić became the first player in NBA history to score 2,000 points, grab 1,000 rebounds, and dish out 500 assists. Those numbers, while arbitrary cutoffs, served to remind the NBA world just how impressive Jokić’s performance was throughout the year. No center has ever shown Jokić’s passing skill. No point guard has ever been Jokić’s size to grab rebounds and battle in the paint. Very few players in NBA history have ever matched Jokić’s scoring prowess either.

Oct 22, 2022; Denver, Colorado, USA; Denver Nuggets center Nikola Jokic (15) prepares to shoot the ball in the second half against the Oklahoma City Thunder at Ball Arena. Mandatory Credit: Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

Jokić earned his second straight MVP award in a highly competitive race with Philadelphia 76ers center Joel Embiid and Milwaukee Bucks big man Giannis Antetokounmpo. Any of the three could have won, but Jokić separated himself at the end with his all-around dominance. The Nuggets needed every bit of it too, or else they certainly would have fallen short of the playoffs.

Jokić and the Nuggets were ultimately ousted by the NBA champion Golden State Warriors, but it wasn’t without earning some respect along the way.

“It was absolutely amazing to play against him,” shared Warriors big man Draymond Green immediately following Golden State’s Game 5 victory that eliminated the Nuggets from the playoffs. “He made me better, and I’m very thankful to have that matchup to continue to improve myself as a basketball player.”

Jokić and Green are both thinkers. They understand the nuances of the game at a deep level and watching them go against each other helped fans understand the depth to their skills. Green was a defensive player of the year for a reason, and the fact that Jokić is still teaching him some things says a lot.

Though it didn’t end in a championship, Jokić’s 2021-22 season will go down in NBA history as one of its most impactful individual seasons ever.

Now, at the end of 2022, the Nuggets are beginning their 2022-23 season. Jokić’s individual burden has been lessened with the returns of Murray and Porter, but the Nuggets still rely on him in every facet of the game. He remains their North Star, the guiding light the Nuggets hope will lead them to a championship one day. Whether it happens or not is neither here nor there, because in Jokić, the Nuggets have found everything to be possible.

There are certainly other deserving athletes for Professional Athlete of the Year, two Colorado Avalanche champions topping the list. Nathan MacKinnon and Cale Makar each had incredible seasons of their own, bringing a championship to the city of Denver for the first time since 2016. The Avalanche captivated the heart of the city, a homegrown team with a lightning quick play style featuring the incredible exploits of the two pillars on their top line. Either MacKinnon or Makar would be an excellent choice, and in any given “other” year, one of them likely would have been.

Jokić’s singular dominance stands above the rest though. He did things no basketball player has ever done before, carrying a team and a city on his back in the process. His back-to-back honor also accomplished something no athlete in Colorado sports history has ever done. It was unprecedented to say the least. Jokic may not be the strongest, the fastest, or the most athletic, but he has a basketball mind that stands tall above the rest. Jokić was a second-round pick in the 2014 NBA Draft due to his physical limitations. To overcome those concerns and be the player he is? Nothing short of incredible.

Jokić will be a Nugget for life. The superstar center just signed a five-year contract extension in the offseason. On Media Day in September, Jokić shared that he would love to be the Tim Duncan of the Nuggets.

“But I need to win a couple championships to be him.”

Jokić is well on his way to making that championship dream a reality, and Nuggets fans would love nothing more.



Patrick Surtain II
Denver Broncos

Aug 13, 2022; Denver, Colorado, USA; Denver Broncos cornerback Pat Surtain II (2) reacts in the first quarter against the Dallas Cowboys at Empower Field at Mile High. Mandatory Credit: Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

It’s difficult to define – via individual statistics or through the NFL standings – just how good Broncos cornerback Patrick Surtain II really is. That said, there’s an argument to be made that he’s one of, if not the best cornerback in football. His traditional stats aren’t overly impressive, as few quarterbacks even dare throw his way, limiting his opportunities for interceptions. His team has struggled, so the media attention given to a top player on a top team isn’t there. But for us, it’s not debatable, Surtain II is as good as we’ve ever seen.

Nathan MacKinnon
Colorado Avalanche

May 3, 2022; Denver, Colorado, USA; Colorado Avalanche center Nathan MacKinnon (29) during the third period of game one against the Nashville Predators of the first round of the 2022 Stanley Cup Playoffs at Ball Arena. Mandatory Credit: Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

Where does one begin when describing Nathan MacKinnon? If simply going off the eye test, there’s rarely a game that MacKinnon doesn’t clearly stand out as the fastest, most skilled player on the ice. Statistically, he’s always great, and his 88 points in 65 games this season were no different. And on the Avalanche’s run through the Stanley Cup Playoffs, MacKinnon’s 13 goals led all postseason scorers. Always a potential candidate to win the Hart Memorial or the Ted Lindsay, MacKinnon was – as always – spectacular.

Cale Makar
Colorado Avalanche

Oct 12, 2022; Denver, Colorado, USA; Colorado Avalanche defenseman Cale Makar (8) during the first period against the Chicago Blackhawks at Ball Arena. Mandatory Credit: Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

It’s difficult to say that Cale Makar did not win this year’s Mile High Sports Professional Athlete of the Year. Ninety-nine out of 100 times, he would have. The playoff MVP for the Avs was certainly worthy. Since his debut just three seasons ago, Makar has only ascended. At age 23, he has now lifted the Stanley Cup, won a Norris Trophy, won a Calder Trophy and won a Conn Smythe Trophy. Only two other players have done that: Hall of Famers Bobby Orr and Brian Leetch.

Ethan Horvath

Jun 6, 2021; Denver, Colorado, USA; United States goalkeeper Ethan Horvath (12) celebrates after defeating Mexico in the 2021 CONCACAF Nations League Finals soccer series final match at Empower Field at Mile High. Mandatory Credit: Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

A product of Arapahoe High School, Colorado’s own Ethan Horvath earned a spot on the United States Men’s National Team and a trip to Qatar for the 2022 FIFA World Cup. As the backup goaltender, Horvath’s professional career overseas has been rocky at times, but his inclusion on the USMNT’s roster is evidence of how good he really is. Local fans might most remember him for his Man of the Match honors in the inaugural Concacaf Nations League Final victory against Mexico, where he saved Andres Guardado’s penalty kick in stoppage time on June 6, 2021 in Denver.

Nazem Kadri
Colorado Avalanche

Jun 26, 2022; Tampa, Florida, USA; Colorado Avalanche center Nazem Kadri (91) celebrates with the Stanley Cup trophy after defeating the Tampa Bay Lightning during game six of the 2022 Stanley Cup Final at Amalie Arena. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

There’s a reason that Nazem Kadri is no longer a member of the Colorado Avalanche. And it has nothing to do with the Avs not “wanting” him. Simply put, he was so good during the Avalanche’s championship season, he became too expensive to re-sign. In 71 regular season games with the Avs, he tallied 87 points on 28 goals and 59 assists. In the postseason, he had 15 points in 16 games, but more impressively, suffered a major injury, had surgery and returned to score the game winning goal in Game 4 of the Stanley Cup Finals.

Valeri Nichushkin
Colorado Avalanche

Oct 22, 2022; Las Vegas, Nevada, USA; Colorado Avalanche right wing Valeri Nichushkin (13) warms up before a game against the Vegas Golden Knights at T-Mobile Arena. Mandatory Credit: Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA TODAY Sports

To say that Valeri Nichushkin reinvented himself this season might be an overstatement. However, he certainly blossomed in 2021-22. Over the course of his seven-year NHL career, which includes four seasons with the Stars and three with Colorado, he has recorded 71 goals and 103 assists in 405 regular-season games. Last season alone, Nichushkin tallied 25 goals and 27 assists in 62 regular-season games in 2021–22, and he added nine goals and six assists in 15 postseason games and unquestionably a key piece in Colorado’s Cup run.