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NBA MVP race continues to be dominated by international superstars

Oklahoma City Thunder guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander leads a fast break against the Washington Wizards during the second half of an NBA basketball game Friday, Feb. 23, 2024, in Oklahoma City. Gilgeous-Alexander of the Oklahoma City Thunder is among the non-American stars who continue to dominate the NBA MVP conversation. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP, Nate Billings

TORONTO — Canada's Shai Gilgeous-Alexander of the Oklahoma City Thunder is among the non-American stars who continue to dominate the NBA MVP conversation.

Denver's Nikola Jokic of Serbia, Milwaukee's Giannis Antetokounmpo of Greece and Dallas' Luka Doncic of Slovenia are also in the thick of the MVP race as the regular season gets closer and closer to its end.

"He’s an amazing player, I’ve been watching him. He’s a great guy," Doncic said of Gilgeous-Alexander Wednesday night. "The things he does on the court, it's amazing. 

"Maybe a non-American (wins MVP). There's a lot of great players, there’s still a lot of great American players. I think this league is stacked with talent right now."

Antetokounmpo and Jokic, each winning back-to-back MVPs, and Philadelphia's Joel Embiid of Cameroon winning the award last season, have made it five years in a row that non-Americans have claimed the award.

The last time an American won MVP was in 2017-18 when James Harden, then with the Houston Rockets, capped a run of 11 straight years of U.S. players winning the league's top individual award.

Before that, Canadian Steve Nash and German Dirk Nowitzki strung together a run of three straight, with Nash winning back-to-back MVPs in 2004-05 and 2005-06 and Nowitzki in 2006-07. The only other international player to ever win MVP was Hakeem Olajuwon of Nigeria in 1993-94.

Jokic and Gilgeous-Alexander currently stand atop most MVP ranking lists, with Jokic almost averaging a triple-double (26.1 points, 12.3 rebounds, 9.3 assists) from the centre position. 

Meanwhile, Gilgeous-Alexander is second in the league in scoring (31.1) — behind Doncic (34.5) — and first in steals (2.1) with the Thunder in second in the Western Conference, just behind the Minnesota Timberwolves.

“All of us, we're going to get older. We're going to look at this age, and we're going to be like, 'amazing,'” Toronto Raptors head coach Darko Rajakovic said Wednesday. "This era of the NBA is just amazing (with) the talent of all the players.

"We're really blessed to live in this era and to be part of the NBA at this time. Just got to enjoy it and learn those guys and how we can best continue to develop — the whole league.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 28, 2024.

Abdulhamid Ibrahim, The Canadian Press

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