He shimmers on the court, half in shape, half not, in a kind of perpetual state of slightly tubby. He's not terribly athletic, or skilled in the obvious ways, but he's out there, making an impact, night after night. He's in commercials for the local cult coffee, he's a better passer than he has any right to be, he rumbles around the paint, dunks, sometimes, and at other times tosses in shitty layup tries that make you want to yank your own teeth out.
He's a Muslim, devout, public, writing about it on his Twitter feed, at a time and in a place when a portion of the population considers that common expression of belief an act of terrorism. His hair is all spiky and retrograde, a perpetual 1999 sitting on top of his head. Everyone on the team loves him. Damian Lillard, who loves everyone, especially loves him.
He's Jusuf Nurkic. He's the the Bosnian Beast. It's fucking cool, man. It rolls off the tongue.
Basketball is about skill now, and honestly, it's a little lame. When you're a kid, you just want to see a big-ass dude out there slamming and flying around, and Jusuf Nurkic gives you that feeling.
He's also a fabulous player, with a wild career arc. Nurk washed out into Portland after Nikola Jokic, probably the best center in the NBA, took his job in Denver. He contributed immediately, became the backbone of the kind of defense the team hadn't managed to field since Rasheed was on the squad. He was even better in his second year, he got a decent contract in the offseason, and came back EVEN BETTER, playing in the best shape of his career, and flashing playmaking skills that were a godsend for the team.
Two nights ago during a win that sealed their place in the playoffs, Nurkic broke his leg.
It was horrifying, an audible snap and the visual recoil of seeing a leg displaced from itself, a man splayed out on the ground while they brought out an emergency cast, his teammate draping a towel over his head so the cameras couldn't see him weep in pain and agony. It was an unnerving scene, the horror compounded by the fact that it was happening to a dude pretty much everyone liked.
The good news is: In the grand scheme of sports injuries, it's not that bad. A fracture of the tibia and fibula, while absolutely disgusting to watch and unbelievably painful, is eminently fixable with the twin healing touch of pins and time. It happened to Paul George two or so seasons ago, and he has been an MVP-caliber performer this year. Nurk will be back in time, smack in the prime of his career, hungry for action and ready to rock the Rose Garden again.
In the short term, though, it is very bad for the Blazers.
Enes Kanter has his virtues, but defense is certainly not one of them. Zach Collins will get an opportunity, but he has a long way to go before he can touch what Nurk does on the hardwood. Meyers Leonard you're, uhh, already familiar with. The team had ambitions for second-round glory in the postseason, but fate and the breakability of the human body have probably stopped those cold in their tracks, for now. It's a grim way to see a season end, but this is the way of all things.
It wouldn't even be that fun, without Nurk. Who is looking to watch a team without their meaty, mean heart, out there beefing around? Not me, certainly.