It was a year ago tonight, but it seems so much longer than that.
Jusuf Nurkic, in terrible pain, was twisting in agony near the basket in front of the Trail Blazers’ bench, both major bones in his left leg fractured during the first overtime of a double-overtime game against the Brooklyn Nets.
The scene was too upsetting for most of those on the court at the time. The Nets players glanced at him, then headed for their bench with their heads down. Trail Blazer players were stunned, grief-stricken about their friend and the seemingly luckless fortunes of their team.
He didn’t deserve this. The Blazers didn’t, either. But things happen. BAD things, as we have learned lately. And Nurkic got a truckload of bad.
The "Bosnian Beast" is complicated. He’s a playful, big-hearted, generous and popular person. A teddy bear, not a beast. He’s not afraid to make fun of himself and doesn’t mind puffing himself up, either.
He is a wonderful blend of a shy, modest Bosnian still new to the U.S. and a swaggering, playground-tough, trash-talking, legend in his own mind.
He has embraced Portland every bit as much as Portland has embraced him.
I love watching him play, as I’m sure many others do, too. And it’s been too long since we’ve had that opportunity.
On the court, he is clever, skilled and tough-minded, with a deep desire to please his teammates and be a part of a winning culture. When he came to Portland, there seemed to be more value placed on the draft choice that came with him than there was on him. But after being confined to bench duty in Denver, he wasted no time showing everyone here how good he was -- buzzing around the court like an angry bee finally freed from a kid’s Mason jar.
He’s been through another long and difficult rehabilitation period and has promised to be a better player when he returns than he was before the injury.
And I wouldn’t bet against him. He has the tools to become an all-star, if his body allows it. And this is a player who hasn’t had the best of luck when it comes to medical issues.
Two broken legs in the last three seasons, then, just a matter of days prior to his long-awaited return to basketball, a cruel virus shut down his league.
There will be better times -- for Nurkic and the NBA. And that means a bright future for Trail Blazer fans, too. They love him and he knows it.
And I’m sure he can’t wait to return that love.