For years, we have heard stories about Sombor. For us, it’s a distant land that has this fairy tale essence. It always seemed like a magical place. KK Joker, the local basketball club where Nikola Jokic played long ago, Jokic’s former school and the concrete court where he grew up playing, the Sombor horse stables and the racetrack are all there. We knew these places existed, but we never knew if we would be able to smelt them really.
We arrived in Sombor on Sunday afternoon and met Jokic’s first coach, Srdjan Stojkov, at KK Joker. Srdjan gave us a behind-the-scenes tour of the entire facility, locker room and team offices and dropped us off at the gym. It was a fantastic experience. Mostonga Hall, the KK Joker facility, is old and was built in 1971. Some parts of it look very old, while some of them have been redone.
As soon as you walk through the doors, dim lighting and a pink brick hallway lead to a grand concourse that seats 1,000 fans. We were told that Jokic and his family help run the team and have invested heavily in the facility. They have also recently upgraded the pitch to the standards needed to play in Serbia’s top division (KK Joker currently plays in the second division.) Branislav Jokic, Nikola’s father, is the president. The locker rooms and offices have also been recently redone. Srdjan shared stories about Jokic that he remembers from his training and we had to shoot in the field. It was special.
Then we went with Srdjan to the stables. Yes, Dream Catcher Stalls. Surreal doesn’t even begin to describe how it felt to be there. It felt so perfect, almost fake. But the funny thing is, it’s exactly what you’d imagine. The dogs — the same ones that interrupted his TNT MVP interview — are still barking. The chair and desk he used during that interview are still there, against the wall where they’ve probably been for years. The race track is exactly as you would imagine it to be. It is located off the road and behind the stables and a white gate. There is a small stand on one side, and that’s it. Again, it’s perfect. It is simple, authentic, calm, quiet and peaceful. Simply perfect.
Next, Jokic’s old school and its basketball court. It was also so perfect it didn’t feel real. The mural pops up more than I personally expected. Surrounded by neutral colors and lush green trees, it stands out, as it should. We played on the field for an hour or so. I just felt so special being there. Following in the footsteps of the greatest player in the world. Playing on the same concrete he used to play on. Like I said, surreal.
Afterwards, dinner at Restoran Slon Sombor (Elephant Restaurant). Apparently, it’s a place Jokic frequents. We had fish stew, Jokic’s favorite, and other traditional Serbian food plus plenty of Jelen beer, the most popular beer in Serbia. We remembered an incredible day. An incredible day. A day we will talk about forever. We were also joined at dinner by Srdjan Vlaskalic, our tourist guide in Sombor. I will talk more about it tomorrow.
This journey has been a whirlwind. It’s been a blur. We have done a lot in such a short time. But I was always able to feel extremely present throughout our days here. Perhaps because each individual moment felt so significant. It’s impossible not to be at the moment experiencing this distant land. KK Joker, horse track, mural and Sombor have been such powerful places to visit.
One final note: We stayed overnight at a place in Sombor called the Old Brick Pub. It’s a bar with dorm-style rooms above it. Yes, we slept on a bar. Also, Shoutout to Miroslav Cuk and Milan Mijalkovic from the Serbian Corner and Nuggets Serbia Podcast who have been saviors and with us every step of the way and have taken us to Sombor. The nine of us sitting in a circle outside Old Brick at 1am passing around a bottle of Rakija and reminiscing about what we had just experienced in Sombor is another lightbulb memory that will last forever.
What day. More from Sombor tomorrow.