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The NBA’s international stars are taking on the league and this could possibly be just the start


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Distant from the glitz and glamor where he showcases his many skills, Nikola Jokic is being presented with the trophy given to the National Basketball Association’s (NBA) Most Beneficial Player (MVP) outside a horse stable in his home country.

After one other dominant 12 months, Jokic was named MVP for the second straight season, in doing so becoming the fifteenth player in NBA history to win the MVP multiple times.

As a teen, Jokic says he never harbored dreams of even playing the game he has come to excel at; he was too busy mucking out the stables.

“I used to be cleansing the boxes. I used to be cleansing the horses. At that age, I used to be not fascinated with basketball in any respect, I’m not going to lie.”

Fast forward to 2022 and Jokic has come up smelling of roses after the 27-year-old big man became the second player in a row to win it in successive seasons after Milwaukee Bucks superstar Giannis Antetokounmpo in 2018-19 and 2019-20.

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Perhaps more significantly, it also continues a run of non-American winners of basketball’s top individual prize and the upwards trajectory of a latest crop of international stars within the NBA.

Jokic dribbles against the Memphis Grizzlies at Ball Arena on January 21, 2022.

A dream

Before Antetokounmpo won his first MVP title in 2019, there had been a 12-year gap since a global player had won the celebrated award, when Germany’s Dirk Nowitzki did in order a member of the Dallas Mavericks in 2006-07.

In addition to Nowitzki, Jokic and Antetokounmpo, the one other non-American born players to win the MVP award other are Nigeria’s Hakeem Olajuwon, Canada’s Steve Nash and Tim Duncan of the US Virgin Islands (while Duncan is a US citizen and represented the US in international play, the NBA considers him a global player).

Nonetheless, this 12 months’s top-three for the celebrated Maurice Podoloff Trophy was an all-international affair as Jokic beat out Antetokounmpo and Philadelphia 76ers center Joel Embiid. It’s the primary time the highest three of MVP voting has been composed of all-international players.

Antetokounmpo reacts to a three-point shot against the New York Knicks.

In a league that’s primarily made up of American stars, having a Serbian, Greek and Cameroonian because the league’s best players is a milestone moment for the NBA.

Never before has there been such a concentration of international stars within the NBA. At this 12 months’s All-Star game, there have been seven international-born players; 30 years ago, there have been just two.

Within the league’s first season in 1946/47, there have been five international players within the league. In the beginning of this season, there have been 109 from 39 countries.

Former NBA Commissioner David Stern spotted the potential for global expansion and the chance for the game to expand its borders.

“It’s David Stern’s dream,” 76ers coach Doc Rivers said. “It is a world game. It’s not just ‘us,’ whatever us means. It is a world game and that is an excellent thing.”

Combined with the influence of Dražen Petrović and Arvydas Sabonis — two European players who had successful careers within the NBA within the Nineties and are seen as pioneers in breaking down the barrier to the US for a lot of international players to come back after them — the league became a practical aim for a lot of. Actually, Sabonis’ son, Domantas is an All-Star forward currently playing for the Sacramento Kings.

With league offices arising across the globe and the game becoming increasingly popular in lots of countries, it’s perhaps unsurprising that there was an influx of international stars — and it’s noteworthy that 11 of the last 27 No. 1 overall picks within the NBA were born outside the US.

Embiid passes under pressure from Kevin Durant of the Brooklyn Nets.

A primary wave?

Alongside this 12 months’s international MVP finalists is maybe the following European player in line for the award: Luka Doncic.

The Dallas Mavericks’ Slovenian guard is having fun with yet one more season of extraordinary development.

The 2019 Rookie of the Yr — in addition to being a EuroLeague champion and MVP with Real Madrid on the age of 18 — has almost singlehandedly dragged the Mavs into and thru the playoffs up to now. And while his slow begin to the season ruled him out of the running for this 12 months’s award, he’ll surely be in contention in years to come back.

It’s arguable that Doncic, in addition to Jokic, Antetokounmpo and Embiid, profit from being the only NBA player from their respective countries, dominating the limelight whereas their US counterparts may have to vie for attention.

Doncic during the second half of Game 2 of the Western Conference semifinals against the Phoenix Suns.

Jokic is comfortably the most important name in Serbian basketball; Giannis Antetokounmpo — and his two brothers Francis and Thanasis — dominates the Greek NBA landscape; and Doncic is Slovenian basketball’s star player.

In accordance with the NBA, across NBA Europe’s social media channels, content featuring Antetokounmpo performs 100% higher than the common post, while Jokic content does 10% higher.

The ripple effects of this influx of stars, with young basketball players seeing the game as a possible avenue for a profession, is the foothold the NBA might have to grow much more with the following generation.

With basketball academies being arrange across the globe — whether by players or by the league itself — whose to say the following Jokic could possibly be just across the corner?

“If it isn’t me, who’s it?” Jokic explained when asked if he considered himself a longshot to play within the NBA.

Jokic high-fives his teammates after a basket against the San Antonio Spurs on October 22, 2021.

“There isn’t any way I’d come to NBA and play basketball from … from this stable, mainly, and now I’m playing basketball in one of the best league on this planet and playing at a high level.”

With a few of basketball’s most famous players nearing the top of their careers — LeBron James is 37, Kevin Durant is 33 and Steph Curry is 34 — there could possibly be even extra space for a latest crop of young international players to take over the mantle of the faces of the league.

And although they may face competition from US homegrown talent like Trae Young, Ja Morant, Jayson Tatum and Zion Williamson, the NBA could possibly be welcoming a complete latest influx of players because the league enhances its global status.

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