It’s official: the best player in the world’s best basketball league is Nigerian—at least by heritage.
After a breakout remarkable season, Giannis Antetokounmpo, the Greek-Nigerian Milwaukee Bucks star, picked up the NBA’s coveted Most Valuable Player (MVP) award, becoming the second ever Bucks player to do so after the legendary Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.
Antetokounmpo, 24, is also the third-youngest winner of the prize and the fifth player born outside the United States of America to win it. The Milwaukee Bucks confounded critics throughout the season, going beyond the first round in the playoffs for the first time since 2001 as well as holding the league’s best regular season record. And Antetokounmpo’s starring role was noted by voters: he received 78 of the 101 possible first-place votes. The MVP prize is the latest validation for Antetokounmpo who has now emerged as one of the league’s biggest stars.
But despite his growing stardom, as Quartz Africa has reported, Antetokounmpo, born in Greece to Nigerian immigrants, is not as popular in Nigeria as several sports athletes with Nigerian heritage.
Pascal Siakam, the winner of the NBA’s Most Improved Player award, has no such problems. After a year which culminated playing a major role in Toronto Raptors’ NBA championship win, Siakam’s growing popularity could also result in basketball becoming a lot more popular in his native Cameroon. Having grown up in Cameroon where he first learned to play basketball at 17, Siakam has talked up his heritage throughout what has been a remarkable season.
After a turnaround from being a bench role player to being a key cog in a championship-winning team, Siakam’s improvement has been one of the leading narratives of the NBA this season. And like Giannis, Siakam’s award also has element of history: his points-per-game average increased more than any player to play at least 40 games in each NBA season.
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