" Another foreign MVP boosts NBA international projection – Ordimeds

Another foreign MVP boosts NBA international projection

LONDON (AP) — Maybe it’s the ćevapi, or the souvlaki, or the mbanga soup.

Either way, there’s no doubt that the NBA has an increasingly international flavor, reflected in the apparent selection of Denver Nuggets center Nikola Jokic as league MVP for the second year in a row. (An informed source told The Associated Press that there will be an announcement at any time.)

It would be the fourth time in a row that the MVP has been a foreigner, unheard of in the NBA.

The Serbian was chosen ahead of two-time winner Giannis Antetokounmpo of Greece and Cameroonian Joel Embiid in another unprecedented event. The three most voted had never been foreigners.

The NBA playoffs are filled with underdogs, including Slovenian Luka Doncic of the Dallas Mavericks.

The presence of dominant foreign personalities was one of the objectives of commissioner David Stern, who considered the NBA as a league with international projection and insisted on favoring its expansion outside the United States.

“It’s David Stern’s dream,” Philadelphia coach Doc Rivers said. “Outside they are also good. It’s a global game. It’s not just us anymore, whatever “us” means. It’s a global sport and that’s good.” He was referring to the historical superiority of American players, which is no longer so pronounced.

The impact of the presence of foreign players is not felt only in the United States. This increases the fervor for the sport in countries with a basketball tradition like Serbia and Greece. Antetokounmpo won two MVP awards in a row, in 2019 and 2020, and now Jokic, the pride of Sombor (Serbia), is repeating that feat.

“We are a basketball country. This is further proof that we are the best,” said Marko Ćosić, who managed Jokic as a teenager at Mega club Belgrade. “It’s not easy for a country like Serbia, with 7 million people, to compete with the rest of the world.”

Ćosić, now a professor at the University of Belgrade, said Jokic’s playing style “is pure poetry…he’s an artist”.

Jokic, 27, averaged 27.1 points with 13.8 rebounds and 7.9 assists in the regular season.

On the NBA’s European platforms, content on Antetokounmpo has an audience 100% higher than the average for posts, according to the NBA. Jokic’s is 10% more popular than average.

The sale of subscriptions to watch NBA games via streaming (the NBA League Pass) increased by 17% in Serbia, 14% in Slovenia and 9% in Greece this season compared to last. In Africa, it grew by 40% combined, although the NBA does not disclose the total number of subscribers.

The NBA has scheduled two preseason games between the Bucks and the Atlanta Hawks in Abu Dhabi in October. This will be the first time the NBA has visited the United Arab Emirates and the Persian Gulf.

It’s impossible to overstate the impact Antetokounmpo has had on Greece, as a player and as a person. The son of Nigerian immigrants, he obtained his Greek passport shortly before being selected for the NBA draft in 2013. “Giannis is an idol. Improves the image of Greece. He is a global ambassador for Greece,” said Vassilis Skountis, who broadcasts NBA games on Cosmote TV.

The sports media in Greece mainly talk about football, basketball and Giannis.

In fact, Antetokounmpo is a separate news category. All their matches are broadcast live, regardless of the time, and their performances are analyzed.

Parents love him, children want to be like him.

“He’s a Greek, a spectacular player, very strong. He dives, he wins championships, he plays for the national team,” Skountis said. “In Greece, all the boys want to be like Giannis.”

In Cameroon, and throughout Africa, where football is the most popular sport, Embiid is considered an exemplary figure, as is Antetokounmpo.

“These guys who come from outside work twice as hard as everyone else,” said Joe Touomou, assistant head coach of the NBA African Academy. “When it comes to competition, you see the result of that effort. That’s why these three strangers are on top.

The NBA is helping to promote basketball in Africa, opening an academy and partnering with FIBA ​​(the international sports federation) to set up a continental club competition similar to the European Champions League in soccer .

Rivers is excited by what he sees.

“I went to Africa a few years ago, to Dakar, and it was amazing, really,” he said. “There is nothing like the NBA academy in Africa.”

Basketball Without Borders plays a key role in organizing annual events that allow top African prospects to meet NBA players and coaches.

Embiid was a skinny and shy kid when he took part in one of these events in 2011. “To be honest, it wasn’t the best promise we had,” said Touomou, a Cameroonian friend of the family. of Embiid. But he was tall, he had good coordination “and he was ruthless”.

Rumors are circulating that Embiid wants to obtain French nationality so that he can wear the “blue” jersey at the Paris 2024 Olympics. Cameroonians would surely forgive him since what matters most to them is football.

In European basketball nations, winning medals with a country is as important, if not more so, than succeeding in the NBA.

With Jokic’s contribution, Serbia won the silver medal at the Rio de Janeiro Olympics in 2016. He did not participate in the qualifying tournament for the Tokyo Games last year, saying he was exhausted by the NBA campaign, in which he won his first MVP. Serbia hosted the qualifying tournament and fell in the decisive game against Italy.

“Whatever problem they have with the Serbian team, they have to try to solve it,” said Andrija Pavlovic, a Serbian basketball fan who lives in London. “We need it. We’ve had a lot of success in the past. It’s a tradition we want to keep.”

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Tim Reynolds contributed to this report from Miami.

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