Talking Points

The NBA belongs to the world now

The three NBA MVP finalists — Giannis Antetokounmpo of the Milwaukee Bucks; Nikola Jokić of the Denver Nuggets; and Joel Embiid of the Philadelphia 76ers — have also clearly been the three best players all season. That's perhaps to be expected. What is more of a surprise is that the three best players in the NBA, as determined by the voters, include not a single American. 

There have been non-American MVPs before besides Serbia's Jokić and Greece's Antetokounmpo, both previous winners — Nigerian-American Hakeem Olajuwon in 1994; German Dirk Nowitzki in 2007; and in 2006, Steve Nash (a Canadian!) — but never a top three without one. (Embiid hails from Cameroon.) The NBA has been headed in this more international direction for a while, but 2022's MVP race is a sign of just how far things have moved. The news recaps of the finalists that I read this weekend, including on ESPN.com, didn't even make note of the fact. 

And why would they? Basketball isn't just an American game anymore, and no one expects it to be. Why would you want to talk about their countries of origin instead of how Jokić is the best-passing big man the league has ever seen, the unbelievable defense of Giannis, or Embiid's power in the post? Foreign players are no longer some import into the game that everyone finds a bit strange. Europeans are no longer too soft for the NBA. The whole world plays in it and the whole world provides its greatest stars.

Americans can be a bit defensive about the relationship of our sports to the rest of the world. Think of a million snide comments made about "soccer" and "football," or the weird insularity of baseball's "unwritten rules," which are quite different in Japan and Latin America. It's good to see that we've been able to spread basketball to the rest of the world and accept the contributions players from all over have to offer the game—

—wait, what's that? Basketball was invented by a Canadian? No! No!