ESPN's Mark Jackson apologizes after NBA reveals he left Nikola Jokić off his MVP ballot

The mystery of the Nikola Jokić MVP snubber has been solved. The culprit: ESPN's Mark Jackson, who quickly apologized after being unmasked Thursday.

For more than a week, it had been clear one MVP voter left the Denver Nuggets center off their ballot entirely after the voting totals were revealed. Out of 100 voters, Jokić received 15 first-place votes, 52 second-place votes and 32 third-place votes, which adds up to 99 total appearances.

The snub didn't cost Jokić a third straight MVP award — he still finished well short of Philadelphia 76ers star Joel Embiid and his 73 first-place votes — but it did seem to be a pretty clear attempt to limit his chances at doing so, or at least make an ideological stand against his candidacy. After all, no one voted him for fourth- or fifth-place.

Clarity finally arrived Thursday, when the NBA released the ballots of all 100 voters. Jackson, the former NBA All-Star and head coach of the Golden State Warriors, was the lone media member without Jokić in his top five.

Here's how he voted instead.

Mark Jackson's Nikola Jokić-less NBA MVP ballot

  1. Joel Embiid, C, Philadelphia 76ers

  2. Giannis Antetokounmpo, F, Milwaukee Bucks

  3. Jayson Tatum, F, Boston Celtics

  4. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, G, Oklahoma City Thunder

  5. Donovan Mitchell, G, Cleveland Cavaliers

Mark Jackson explains his MVP vote

Less than two hours after that ballot was unveiled, Jackson appeared on SiriusXM to explain himself. He called the ballot a "mistake," indicating he thought he was making an All-NBA vote, and apologized to Jokić and the Nuggets.

Jackson said he would understand if his vote is taken away in the future.

"Mistake. One thing I live by, you make a mistake, you own it. I'm not a guy that does it for clicks or to be trending. Absolute mistake made by me. I am thinking, how did I make that mistake? You can tell, I put one center, two forwards and two guards, so I wasn't even thinking. I apologize to the Denver Nuggets, I apologize to Nikola Jokić, who is not only in the MVP discussion and deserved to be on my ballot, but he's one of the greatest players in the history of this game. He's a top-10 center of all time.

"So, I own it. If you want to take away my vote or whatever, you're more than welcome. I made a mistake. I would have still voted for Joel Embiid the MVP, but with Giannis and Joker second and third. They deserve that, incredible year by him, he continues to make history. I own the mistake and I apologize."

He apologized again on Twitter, calling Jokić a legitimate MVP candidate and an all-time great.

Charles Barkley, and many others, blasted Nikola Jokić snubber without knowing it was Mark Jackson

Jackson's ballot was criticized as soon as NBA fans did the math last week, and one of the most forceful criticisms came from his broadcasting peer, fellow former NBA player Charles Barkley.

The longtime TNT commentator unloaded on the Jokić snubber during a segment on "Inside the NBA" on Monday:

"There's something that's been bothering me. Joel deserved the MVP and Joker and Giannis, they were 1-2-3, however you voted. There's one person — I don't even know this fool's name — didn't even have Joker in the top five. People like that shouldn't get a vote.

"For the last six months, we talked about Joker, Giannis and Embiid. If you have a television, or you actually watch basketball, if you don't think he should have been in the top five, you don't deserve a vote. You could be like some of these fools we be letting vote for president out here ... He's a damn idiot."

It should be said, if a person legitimately doesn't think a player was one of the five most valuable players in the NBA during a season, they are within their rights to leave him off their ballot. But that's clearly not what happened here.

ESPN analyst Mark Jackson looks on prior to the game between the Boston Celtics and Philadelphia 76ers at the Wells Fargo Center on February 25, 2023 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The Celtics defeated the 76ers 110-107. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images)
Mark Jackson had some explaining to do. (Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images)

As Barkley and, later, Jackson argued, you would have to keep your head in the sand for a long time to conclude Jokić shouldn't be on an MVP ballot at all. He averaged nearly a triple-double, with 24.5 points, 11.8 rebounds and 9.8 assists per game, while shooting a career-high 63.2% and leading his team to a 53-29 record, best in the Western Conference.