Back-to-back MVP award for Nikola Jokic in an NBA more international than ever

In an all-international podium, Nuggets center Nikola Jokic finished ahead of Joel Embiid and Giannis Antetokounmpo to earn his second consecutive regular season MVP award.

By Nicolas Kohlhuber
Picture by 2022 Getty Images

For the first in the history of the NBA no American basketball player finished in the top three MVP ranking.

The regular season honour instead went to Serbia’s Nikola Jokic for the second consecutive year after he collected 875 points to finish ahead of Joel Embiid of Cameroon (706) and Giannis Antetokounmpo (595).

Just as the Greek did in 2019 and 2020, the Nuggets’ centre went back-to-back meaning the last time an American got their hands on the Maurice Podoloff trophy was in 2018 when James Harden took home the prize.

The ‘Joker’ and the ‘Greek Freak’ are the only two Europeans to have been elected MVP more than once.

Nikola Jokic: rewriting history

To be the 13th player in NBA history to be crowned MVP twice in-a-row requires doing something special.

Fortunately for Jokic, he did just that.

In 2021/22 the Denver Nuggets centre became the first player to reach 2,000 points, 1,000 rebounds and 500 assists in one season. His historic achievement helped him lead his team, the Denver Nuggets, to the play-offs despite the injuries of Jamal Murray and Michael Porter Jr.

The 27-year-old averaged 27.1 points, 13.8 rebounds and 7.9 assists per game during his seventh season in the NBA.

The native of Sombor discovered the NBA in 2015 and played at the Olympic Games Rio 2016 after his rookie season. There, he averaged 9.1 points, 6 rebounds and 2.4 assists per game to help Serbia reach the final, where they eventually lost against the United States (66-96).

Like at Atlanta 1996, Serbia (back then, Serbia and Montenegro) ended with the silver medal, the best result in their history.

Embiid and Antetokounmpo could play at the Olympic Games for the first time at Paris 2024

An Olympic medal is something that both Embiid and Antetokounmpo don’t have. In fact, the two other finalists of the MVP Award had never played at the Olympic Games.

But Paris 2024 could be the perfect occasion for both stars.

Cameroon-native Embiid could represent France at the next Olympic Games. He has family links with the host-country of Paris 2024 and has recently asked for the French nationality. This could help him play in a FIBA Tournament for the first time in his career as he has never represented Cameroon before.

The center is not only the second best player of the season but also led the NBA in scoring, averaging 30.6 points per game. It is the first time ever an international player has ended the regular at the top of the rankings, marking another important milestone in the ever-increasing globalisation of the NBA.

READ: NBA star Joel Embiid eyes Paris 2024 Olympics with France as naturalised player

Antetokounmpo may have not finished the regular season with an individual trophy but the 2.11m tall power forward is still in the race for the title. The Milwaukee Bucks, last-year champion, are leading 3-2 against Boston in the Eastern Conference semi-finals (as of 13 May).

The Greek ended the season averaging 29.9 points, 11.6 rebounds and 5.8 points per game. It was the most prolific campaign put together by the 27-year-old who already owns every MVP awards possible. In addition to his two mVP titles was awarded the All-Star and Finals MVP last year.

With such a player at the helm, Greece can hope to qualify to the Olympic Games for the first time since Beijing 2008.

In China, the team led by Dimitris Diamantidis finished 5th for the third time since Atlanta 1996. The power forward played the World Cup twice and the EuroBasket, but never managed to bank a medal.

Three international players with inspirational journeys

Jokic, Embiid and Antetokounmpo share more than the MVP award podium.

The three stars each had to struggle in their own way before establishing themselves among the best basketball players in the world.

From the very beginning Jokic was underestimated. The Serb was picked 41st in the 2014 Draft. So insignificant was he perceived to be his selection by the Nuggets was not even broadcast - it occurred during a commercial break. To this day he is the lowest-drafted player to become an MVP.

The same year, Embiid was drafted as third choice by Philadelphia. At the time, the Cameroonian had only been playing his sport for five years. He was a huge prospect with bags of potential, but several teams doubted him. And just as he wanted to prove them all wrong Embiid was then forced to wait two years to make his debut after being a string of injuries kept him out of play.

Now no one doubts him.

As for Antetokounmpo, his story is one that rivals a Hollywood script.

Born and raised in Athens to Nigerian immigrants, the NBA championship winner grew up against the odds. Stateless, impoverished, subjected to racist attacks the Antetokounmpo family did all that they could just to survive.

After being discovered by a basketball coach Giannis and his brother Thanasis began to play competitive basketball and within years their stocks rose. It was only be intervention that Antetokounmpo was given Greek citizenship so that he could enter the NBA Draft in 2013 and the rest, as they say, is history.

MORE: Giannis Antetokounmpo: From the streets of Greece to the lawns of the White House

Despite doubts, hardships and injuries, all three players have gone on to write NBA history. And they could well do it all over again at the Olympic Games in Paris in 2024.

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