Nikola Jokic, returning from a positive coronavirus test, completed his quarantine on Tuesday and watched his Denver Nuggets teammates practise at the Walt Disney World Resort near Orlando, Florida.
The centre tested positive for Covid-19 while in his native Serbia last month.
He travelled to central Florida separately from his teammates, arriving last Saturday, then was quarantined while waiting to pass two coronavirus tests in a 48-hour period.
According to the National Basketball Association’s (NBA) health and safety protocols, any person who tests positive has to undergo a cardiac screening and then receive two consecutive negative tests before they can return to their teams.
Speaking to reporters during a video conference call on Tuesday, Jokic said the positive test surprised him because he was asymptomatic.
“It was kind of weird. I was feeling good and feeling normal,” he said.
The Nuggets closed their practice facility two weeks ago when “multiple people” in the team’s travelling party tested positive for the disease.
Even now, coach Mike Malone said he is not sure when he will have his full team available ahead of the league’s resumption in the Florida “bubble” on July 30.
He added of Jokic: “Nikola is a big part of what we’re trying to do. Having him here finally is great. He and I have a tremendous relationship. It was wonderful to see him walk through those doors.”
Jokic also addressed the hot topic of his physique.
A widely circulated photo of him during the NBA’s hiatus showed him looking far leaner than his listed weight of 128.8kg.
He said he had lost 9-11kg during the season before play halted, then lost an additional 1.4-2.3kg.
“About the pictures, I see how people don’t see the (long-term) changes,” he said. “I didn’t lose that much pounds in the quarantine and corona.
“I’m just happy to be here and finally come to Orlando to be with the team. Maybe I’ll surprise everybody. You will see.”
Malone has maintained all along that the club’s All-Star centre has stayed healthy despite the positive test.
“So much is being made of Nikola’s weight loss. I think there was a picture that spread like wildfire while he was home in Serbia,” he said. “The funny thing for me is long before the league was suspended on March 11, Nikola had lost a ton of weight from the beginning of the season.
“To his credit, he just continued to be disciplined and focused with his routine during the suspension and hiatus.”
Jokic, 25, is averaging 20.2 points, 10.2 rebounds and 6.9 assists per game this season. In five NBA seasons, all with Denver, he is averaging 16.9 points, 9.7 rebounds and 5.4 assists.
The Nuggets (43-22) sat in third place in the Western Conference when the NBA suspended the season on March 11 due to the pandemic.
They are scheduled to return to action on Aug 1 against the Miami Heat.