Daily Camera (Boulder)
Jokic, harness racer Tetrick have unlikely friendship
Two connected in New York several years ago
SALT LAKE CITY >> A few Thursdays ago, Nikola Jokic’s head hit the bed at 4:30 a.m. By 6:30, he was standing in Tim Tetrick’s driveway, knocking on his door, eager to get their day started.
The Nuggets arrived in Philadelphia early that morning, marking their third city, including New Orleans and Milwaukee, in barely over 24 hours. That didn’t deter Jokic, who was lured by Tetrick, a Hall of Fame harness racer, and the prospect of horses.
“Let’s go, Timmy,” Jokic said after arriving by Uber at Tetrick’s home.
“He said, ‘This is great,’ ” recalled Tetrick, who’s won more than 13,000 races in his storied career. “‘This is all I want to do is go track to track and race horses.’ ”
From there, the unlikely duo drove an hour and a half north together to a farm to train and jog horses. Following a lunch with some other career horsemen, they drove two and a half hours south to Dover Downs, a harness racing track in Delaware.
In the car together for four hours, there was nothing to do but converse. Naturally, Tetrick, who banters with Jokic like an honorary brother, wanted to talk hoops. But Jokic, consumed with his first love, didn’t stray from the day’s mission.
“He’s like, ‘Why’d you drive that horse that way?’ I’m like, ‘Blah, blah blah,’ and I’m like, ‘Joker, how come you didn’t pass it to KCP there?’ ” Tetrick said.
In order to get to the topic du jour, Jokic knew he needed to indulge in the basketball conversation first. Tetrick peppered him with questions about Kentavious Caldwell-pope and Nuggets rookie Christian Braun.
“I always tease him,” Tetrick said. “‘What, you can’t dunk? You’re seven feet. Just dunk the ball.’ He’s like, ‘I just do those cool finger rolls.’ ”
Their relationship started innocuously enough in 2021 when Jokic was on the hunt for fellow horsemen. One of his closest associates, Alessandro Gocciadoro, fulfilled some need, but he’s an elite harness racer in Italy.
“He’s a trainer, he’s a driver, really good friend of mine, really good guy that I learned a lot — who helped my stable a lot,” Jokic said. “Let’s say, I took his kind of system and implemented it in (mine). He came to my hometown and raced my horses, the guy who has won a couple of million in Europe over the last year. I really love him, as a person.
“… And then I wanted to find someone like that in USA,” Jokic said.
Jokic scrounged around for Tetrick’s number and wound up reaching him via text.
“‘Hey Timmy, I’m Nikola,’ ” Jokic said. “I just want to have someone in USA. He responded right away. ‘Whenever you’re here, just call me.’ ”
When the Nuggets were in New York several years ago, the two connected and hit it off.
“I said, ‘Do you want to go to a farm and train some horses?” Tetrick said. “He goes, ‘Yes!”
Tetrick remembered it being a frigid day at Gaitway Farms — a farm that stables hundreds of racehorses — but Jokic couldn’t hide his pleasure. According to Tetrick, he jogged eight or nine horses and didn’t want to leave the track.
“Couple beers after, really good guy,” Jokic said. “Actually, I was watching him race. Whenever I go there, he doesn’t win. He has 13,000 wins, and whenever I go there, I’m the bad luck. … No, he won a couple. I think he’s gonna be one of the best ever who did this.”
Jokic might be right. Tetrick has earned more than $250 million throughout his career, according to Drf.com.
Later that night, the two ventured to Meadowlands racetrack. When Tetrick asked Jokic if he wanted to grab something to eat in the grandstands, Jokic demurred.
“He goes, ‘I ain’t leaving here, this is where I want to be, right down here with these scum,’” Jokic joked. •••
Back at Dover Downs several weeks ago, Jokic was in his element.
“You can tell he doesn’t even want to talk basketball,” Tetrick said. “He’s asking all the other drivers, guys that he would know, that are the Michael Jordan and stuff of (harness racing). He wants to talk about us, and all we want to do is ask him questions about, ‘Well, how’d you meet Michael Jordan?’ or, ‘What’d you think about Lebron?’ He’s like, ‘What’d you think about that horse?’ … He just wants to be one of the guys.”
Even in his happy place, Jokic still couldn’t shake the celebrity of who he is: the two-time MVP signed autographs, shook hands and took pictures with anyone who asked. As polite as he was, Jokic still managed to inject his biting humor into the paddock. While huddled around Tetrick and a handful of his fellow drivers, Jokic made himself at home.
“Tetrick, I thought you said you were good,” Jokic said. “You haven’t won a race yet!’”
That night, the starters for the All-star Game were announced. Prior to the unveiling, Jokic acted as if he wasn’t going to be named a starter.
“I’m like, ‘Would you shut up already?’” Tetrick said.
ESPN was on one TV, and the ongoing harness races were on the other. Across the ticker came the announcement that Jokic had been named an All-star starter for the third consecutive year.
“I’m in!” Jokic said in mock relief.
There was some level of commotion, though none of it came from Jokic.
“People were kind of looking at me funny,” Jokic said. “I think they didn’t expect me there.”
Two days after their equestrian jaunt, Tetrick was at the Wells Fargo Center for the much-ballyhooed matchup between Jokic and Joel Embiid. This past week, he was in Miami as the Nuggets outlasted the Heat. When he came to Denver, Jokic was there to pick him up at the airport.
“I’m like, ‘Shut up, Joker,’ I always tease him,” Tetrick said. “He loves horses more than he does basketball.”