5 International NBA MVP Award Winners

Giannis Antetokounmpo’s 2019 MVP win was proof that international players can be as good as their American counterparts in the NBA. 

But while The Greek Freak’s award was a reminder that the NBA is a global game, it wasn’t the first time that there was a foreign-born NBA MVP award winner. Giannis was already the fifth international player to win the prestigious award.

Here are five international NBA MVP award winners listed below.

1. Giannis Antetokounmpo (Greece)

Last season, Giannis Antetokounmpo led the Milwaukee Bucks to their first 60-win campaign since 1981 while averaging career-highs in points, rebounds, assists, blocks, and field goal percentage. His body of work was impressive enough to win the 2019 NBA MVP award, despite losing in the Eastern Conference Finals.

The Greek Freak was having another spectacular season this year when play was suspended due to the coronavirus pandemic. Popular USA online gambling sites had Antetokounmpo as the heavy favorite to win the 2019-20 MVP award over LeBron James. If the NBA decides to hand out awards for the current campaign, there’s a good chance that Giannis will become the third back-to-back international NBA MVP award winner.

2. Tim Duncan (U.S. Virgin Islands)

The San Antonio Spurs became a dynasty after drafting Tim Duncan first overall in the 1997 NBA draft. In Duncan’s 19 years with the team, the Spurs won at least 50 games every season and never missed the playoffs. San Antonio also won a total of five NBA titles in three different decades.

In 2002, Duncan averaged career-highs in scoring and rebounding while also leading the league in field goals made and total rebounds. Despite losing to Shaquille O’Neal and the Los Angeles Lakers in the playoffs, Duncan was named as the 2002 NBA MVP. He would win the award again the following season to become the first back-to-back foreign-born NBA MVP award winner.

3. Steve Nash (Canada)

Steve Nash is the shortest among our list of five international NBA MVP award winners and one of two who don’t have an NBA championship ring. But Nash had a dominant run from 2004-06 where he was the best player in the NBA.

Nash led an underdog Phoenix Suns team to the Western Conference Finals in 2004 and won the NBA MVP award. He took the team to another Western Conference appearance in 2005 and became the second back-to-back foreign NBA MVP award winner. Nash almost won a third MVP in 2006, but he finished second to Dirk Nowitzki in the voting.

4. Dirk Nowitzki (Germany)

Dirk Nowitzki is regarded by many as the greatest European player in the history of the NBA. The 2007 NBA MVP award winner led the Dallas Mavericks to 15 playoff appearances, including the franchise’s first NBA Finals appearance in 2006 and its only NBA championship in 2011. 

Nowitzki bucked a torn tendon in his left middle finger in Game 1 and a fever at 100.4 degrees Fahrenheit in Game 4 to lead the Mavericks to a 4-2 series win over a powerhouse Miami Heat team led by Dwyane Wade, LeBron James, and Chris Bosh. He was named Finals MVP in one of the best Cinderella playoff runs in league history.

5. Hakeem Olajuwon (Nigeria)

Hakeem Olajuwon led the Houston Rockets to back-to-back NBA titles in 1994 and 1995. But he was at the pinnacle of his career in 1994 when he gave Houston its first professional sports championship since the Houston Oilers won the American Football League title in 1961.

The Dream carried the Rockets to the 1994 NBA Finals where he outdueled Patrick Ewing and the New York Knicks in a thrilling series that went the full seven-game route. At the end of the season, Olajuwon became the first player in NBA history to win the Championship, Finals MVP, Defensive Player of the Year, and NBA MVP awards in the same season. He also became the first international NBA MVP winner in league history.

Feature photo: Valley of the Suns

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