Nikola Jokic plays for Denver. And for Serbia.
Both places can once again lay claim to the same status: they are home to the NBA’s top player for the second straight season.
The league announced Wednesday night that Jokic has won back-to-back MVP awards. The Nuggets big man is the second straight international player to win back-to-back after Milwaukee native Giannis Antetokounmpo won the title in 2019 and 2020.
International players ended this year’s MVP voting with 1-2-3. Jokic received 65 first-place votes and 875 points from the panel of sportswriters and broadcasters who cover the league and decide awards. Joel Embiid of Philadelphia was second with 26 first place votes and 706 points; Third was Antetokounmpo with nine votes in first place and 595 points. Devin Booker from Phoenix was fourth.
“I don’t know what else there is to say about Nikola at this point,” Nuggets coach Michael Malone said in a statement. “He’s been constantly improving his game, he’s consistently proven people wrong when they doubt him and he’s consistently the best player on the floor night after night.”
Surprise in Sombor✈️🇷🇸 We flew to Serbia to surprise the BACK-TO-BACK MVP! And, wow, that moment was special. pic.twitter.com/aFvIEDgnSj
Jokic, 27, averaged 27.1 points, 13.8 rebounds and 7.9 assists in a team missing two top players in Jamal Murray (ACL) and Michael Porter Jr. (back). Nicknamed the “Joker,” the do-it-all center also created a new category by becoming the first NBA player to eclipse 2,000 points, 1,000 rebounds and 500 assists in a season.
He’s now a member of another rare club – the 13th player to win back-to-back NBA MVP awards. He joined the likes of Antetokounmpo, Stephen Curry, LeBron James (twice), Nash, Tim Duncan, Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson, Moses Malone and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (twice). Larry Bird, Wilt Chamberlain and Bill Russell have each won the award for three consecutive seasons.
Jokic was drafted by the Nuggets with the 41st pick in the 2014 draft. His selection that day flashed at the bottom of the television screen during a Taco Bell commercial.
He has come far. He’s eligible for a supermax extension that could guarantee him nearly $254 million over five seasons starting in 2023-24.
James takes 5th place in the voting
James also extended his record — 19 years in the league, 19 years with at least one vote on the MVP vote (a fifth-place vote). No one has received votes in more seasons, or obviously more consecutive seasons, than James.
Despite their disastrous season—the Los Angeles Lakers didn’t even make the play-in tournament—James’ numbers continued to be among the best in the league. The 37-year-old averaged 30.3 points, 8.2 rebounds and 6.2 assists per game, moving past Karl Malone for second on the all-time scoring charts and in position to overtake Abdul-Jabbar as the all-time leader of the season .
Jokic is further proof of that.
Nor does he demonstrate it himself. Antetokounmpo and Embiid more than did their part. Dallas’ Luka Doncic (fifth in MVP voting) is already a EuroLeague champion and looks certain to win at least one NBA MVP award before he’s done.
They are the new class of international greats, following in the footsteps of Nowitzki, Hakeem Olajuwon, Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili, Pau and Marc Gasol, Yao Ming and others. Debate will rage over which international player is the best – either now or ever – but Antetokounmpo (two MVPs and a championship) and now Jokic (two MVPs after being selected in the second round) have certainly entered the chat .
Raptors added to the international momentum
Canada became champions in 2019 when the Toronto Raptors won the NBA title. That night, the Canadian flag was drenched in champagne, Pascal Siakam danced with the flag of Cameroon around his shoulders, team president Masai Ujiri gave interviews with a Nigerian scarf around his neck, and they were just a few of the Raptors with deep international connections.
It’s not inconceivable that five international players could be lottery picks in next month’s draft. And there’s hardly anyone who doesn’t see Frenchman Victor Wembanyama – a 7ft 2 player with guard skills – as the sure No. 1 pick in the 2023 draft right now.
These newcomers will want to be like Jokic. They’re going to want to be the MVP, and he’s just the latest name to show kids from around the world that it’s possible.