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NBA international stars are taking over the league and this may just be the start

Far from the glitz and glamor where he showcases his many skills, Nikola Jokic is presented with the National Basketball Association (NBA) Most Valuable Player (MVP) trophy in front of a team in his home country.

After another dominant year, Jokic was named MVP for the second consecutive season, becoming the 15th player in NBA history to win the MVP multiple times.

As a youngster, Jokic says he never dreamed of playing the sport he excels at; he was too busy cleaning the stables.

“I was cleaning the boxes. I was cleaning the horses. At that age, I didn’t think about basketball at all, I’m not going to lie.”

Fast forward to 2022 and Jokic has smelled the roses after the 27-year-old big man became the second consecutive player to win it in successive seasons following Milwaukee Bucks superstar Giannis Antetokounmpo in 2018-19 and 2019-20.

Perhaps more importantly, it also continues a winning streak of non-American top individual basketball awards and the upward trajectory of a new generation of NBA international stars.

A dream

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

Besides Nowitzki, Jokic and Antetokounmpo, the only other non-American born players to win the MVP award are Nigerian Hakeem Olajuwon, Canadian Steve Nash and Tim Duncan of the US Virgin Islands (while Duncan is a US citizen and has represented the United States in international play, the NBA considers him an international player).

However, this year’s top three for the prestigious Maurice Podoloff Trophy was an all-international affair as Jokic beat Antetokounmpo and Philadelphia 76ers center Joel Embiid. This is the first time that the top three in MVP voting have been made up of all-international players.

NBA international stars are taking over the league and this may just be the start

In a league mostly made up of American stars, having a Serbian, a Greek and a Cameroonian as the league’s best players is a defining moment for the NBA.

Never before has there been such a concentration of international stars in the NBA. At this year’s All-Star Game, there were seven foreign-born players; 30 years ago there were only two.

In the league’s first season in 1946/47, there were five international players in the league. At the start of this season, they were 109 from 39 countries.

Former NBA commissioner David Stern spotted the potential for global expansion and the opportunity for the sport to expand its borders.

“It’s David Stern’s dream,” 76ers coach Doc Rivers said. “It’s a global game. It’s not just ‘us’ anymore, whatever we want to say. It’s a global game and that’s a good thing.”

Combined with the influence of Dražen Petrović and Arvydas Sabonis – two European players who had successful NBA careers in the 1990s and are considered pioneers in breaking down the barrier in the United States for many international players come after them – the league has become a realistic goal for many. In fact, Sabonis’ son, Domantas is an All-Star forward currently playing for the Sacramento Kings.

With league offices springing up around the world and the sport becoming increasingly popular in many countries, it’s perhaps unsurprising that there’s been an influx of international stars – and it’s fitting to note that 11 of the last 27 NBA No. 1 picks were born outside the United States.

NBA international stars are taking over the league and this may just be the start

A first wave?

Alongside this year’s international MVP finalists is perhaps the next European player in contention for the award: Luka Doncic.

The Dallas Mavericks’ Slovenian guard is enjoying another season of extraordinary development.

The 2019 Rookie of the Year – as well as being EuroLeague champion and MVP with Real Madrid at the age of 18 – almost single-handedly coached the Mavs in and through the playoffs until here. And although his slow start to the season has put him out of contention for this year’s award, he will surely be in contention for years to come.

Arguably, Doncic, along with Jokic, Antetokounmpo and Embiid, benefit from being the only NBA player from their respective countries dominating the spotlight as their American counterparts will have to compete for attention.

NBA international stars are taking over the league and this may just be the start

Jokic is comfortably the biggest name in Serbian basketball; Giannis Antetokounmpo – and his two brothers Francis and Thanasis – dominate the Greek NBA landscape; and Doncic is Slovenia’s star basketball player.

According to the NBA, on NBA Europe social media, content featuring Antetokounmpo performs 100% better than the average post, while Jokic content performs 10% better.

The ripple effects of this influx of stars, with young basketball players looking to the sport as a potential avenue for a career, is the foothold the NBA may need to grow even further with the next generation.

With basketball academies being set up around the world – whether by players or by the league itself – who’s to say the next Jokic could be just around the corner?

“If it’s not me, who is it? Jokic explained when asked if he considered himself a longshot to play in the NBA.

NBA international stars are taking over the league and this may just be the start

“There’s no way I’m coming to the NBA and playing basketball ever since… from this stable, basically, and now I’m playing basketball in the best league in the world and playing at a high level.”

With some of basketball’s most famous players nearing the end of their careers – LeBron James is 37, Kevin Durant is 33 and Steph Curry is 34 – there could be even more room for a new generation. young international players to take over. league faces.

And although they face competition from homegrown American talents like Trae Young, Ja Morant, Jayson Tatum and Zion Williamson, the NBA could welcome a whole new influx of players as the league improves its global status.

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