After another dominant year, Jokic was named MVP for the second consecutive season, thus becoming the fifteenth player in NBA history to win the MVP title multiple times.
When he was young, Jokic says it never occurred to him to play the sports he had mastered; He was too busy destroying 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 smelled roses after the 27-year-old became the second consecutive player to win the title in back-to-back seasons after Milwaukee Bucks star Giannis Antetokounmo in 2018-19 and 2019-20.
Perhaps most importantly, it also continues a string of non-US singles #1 winners in basketball and the upward trajectory of a new group of international NBA superstars.
Before Antetokounmpo won his first title in 2019, there had been a 12-year gap since an international won the coveted award, when German Dirk Nowitzki did so as a member of the Dallas Mavericks in 2006-07.
However, this year’s top three finishes in the prestigious Morris Podolof Cup were an international affair as Jokic beat Antetokounmo and Joel Embiid of Philadelphia 76ers. It’s the first time that the top three consisted of MVP votes from all international players.
In a league that consists mainly of American superstars, having a Serbian, Greek and Cameroonian player as the league’s top players is a defining moment in the NBA.
There has never been such a focus for international stars in the NBA before. In this year’s All-Star Game, there were seven first-born international players. 30 years ago, there were only two.
In the league’s first season in 1946/47, there were five internationals in the league. At the start of the season, there were 109 from 39 countries.
Former NBA commissioner David Stern has explored 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 no longer just ‘we’, whatever we mean. It’s a global game and that’s a good thing.”
Combined with the influence of Dracin Petrović and Arvidas Sabonis – two European players who had a successful NBA career in the 1990s and are seen as pioneering in breaking the barrier for the United States for many international players to follow – the league has become a realistic target for many. In fact, the son of Sabonis, Domantas is an all-star striker who currently plays for the Sacramento Kings.
With league offices popping up all over the world and the sport increasing in popularity in many countries, it’s perhaps not surprising that there has been an influx of international superstars — and it’s worth noting that 11 of the last 27 overall picks in the NBA were born outside the United States.
The first wave?
Besides the finalists for this year’s World Player of the Year, he may be next in line to win the award: Luka Doncic.
The Slovenian Dallas Mavericks guard is enjoying another season of extraordinary development.
New Player of the Year 2019 – as well as being a Euroleague champion and player of the year for Real Madrid at the age of 18 – has single-handedly dragged the Mavs to and through the playoffs so far. And while his sluggish start to the season saw him disqualified from being nominated for this year’s award, he’s sure to be in competition for years to come.
Doncic, as well as Jokic, Antetokounmpo and Embiid, are arguably benefiting from being the only NBA player from their respective countries, dominating the spotlight while their American counterparts have to vie for attention.
Jokic is comfortably the biggest name in Serbian basketball. Giannis Antikonmo – and his brothers Francis and Thanassis – dominate the Greek basketball scene. Doncic is a Slovenian basketball star.
According to the NBA, across NBA Europe’s social media channels, content featuring Antetokounmpo performs 100% better than the average post, while Jokic content is 10% better.
The ripple effects of this influx of superstars, with young basketball players seeing the sport as a potential avenue for a career, is a foothold the NBA may need to grow further with the next generation.
With basketball academies established all over the world – both by players and by the league itself – who would say the next Jokic might be around the corner?
“If it’s not me, who is it?” Jokic explained when asked if he considers himself a long shot to play in the NBA.
“It’s impossible for me to go to the NBA and play basketball from … from that stable, basically, and now I play basketball in the best league in the world and play at a high level.”
With some of basketball’s most famous players nearing the end of their careers – LeBron James aged 37, Kevin Durant aged 33 and Steve Curry aged 34 – there may be more room for a new batch of young internationals to take charge. From the faces of the league.
And while they will face competition from American homegrown talent such as Trae Young, Ja Morant, Jayson Tatum and Zion Williamson, the NBA may welcome a whole new influx of players as the league cements its global standing.