When the Raptors made the NBA Finals last night, it was a huge moment for international basketball.
Obviously it was a big victory for Toronto, as they will host the first NBA Finals game to take place outside of the United States. But more importantly, the Raptors making it to the NBA Finals was a monumental victory for Africa.
Masai Ujiri, the president of the Toronto Raptors, has built his team with African-born players in mind, with guys like Pascal Siakam and Serge Ibaka playing huge roles in their quest for a championship.
Ujiri was born and raised in Nigeria, before coming to the United States to play college basketball. Once Ujiri’s basketball career came to an end, he got a job working as a scout for the Orlando Magic.
Ujiri continued to work his way through NBA front offices, before becoming in charge of the Denver Nuggets basketball operations department in 2010. When he got the job, Ujiri became the first African-born GM in the NBA.
While his career was taking off, Ujiri never forgot about his home nation of Africa. Ujiri became integral in building out the Basketball Without Borders Africa program, which helped bridge the gap between the continent of Africa and the basketball opportunities that exist in the United States.
Over the last decade, we have seen a huge influx of talented players that have come to the NBA from Africa. Players like Joel Embiid, Pascal Siakam and Serge Ibaka have become NBA stars, all hailing from Africa.
For Siakam, Basketball Without Borders is where he was discovered, as he attended one of their camps and really impressed. One of the people there was Ujiri, who noted the incredible effort that Siakam played with.
In the 2016 NBA Draft, Ujiri selected Siakam with the 27th overall pick. This year, Siakam has become a budding star in the NBA, as he has evolved into the Raptors second-best player.
Along with Siakam, the Raptors also feature another African player in Serge Ibaka, who was born and raised in the Republic of the Congo.
Ujiri traded for the Ibaka last year and he has been another huge piece in the Raptors quest for an NBA Finals.
As the NBA continues its efforts to expand their game around the world, we are sure to see more international talent thriving in the NBA. With stars from around the world, the NBA is growing its international fan base as well.
The Raptors are becoming a shining example for how international players, specifically ones from Africa, can become champions.
With a roster that features six different international players, the Raptors will look to bring the first ever Larry O’Brien Trophy north of the border.
Giannis Antetokounmpo Wins the Most Valuable Player Award
This year, Giannis Antetokounmpo took his game to another level, leading the Milwaukee Bucks to a league-best 60-22 record.
While he could not lead his team to the NBA Finals, the Greek Freak still had a remarkable season as one of the most dominant forces in the league.
For his remarkable regular season, Antetokounmpo was named the league’s Most Valuable Player.
Antetokounmpo averaged 27.7 points, 12.5 rebounds and 5.9 assists per game this season, while also provided excellent defense on the other end.
The crazy part about Giannis becoming the league MVP is the journey he took to get there. Antetokounmpo was drafted with the 15th overall pick six years ago and people did not even know if he could stay in the league.
Now he is the league’s best player.
Giannis was clearly emotional about receiving the award, as he thought about all the work that led him to that point.
Still just 24 years old, Giannis is one of the youngest players to win the MVP and is set to be at the top of the league for years to come.
With a trophy case that now features a league MVP, along with a Most Improved Player Award, there is not much more Giannis needs to accomplish in the regular season.
The next step, is leading the Milwaukee Bucks to their first championship in nearly 50 years.
With the great talents of Antetokounmpo, there is no telling what is next for this NBA superstar.
Lou Williams Wins the Sixth Man of the Year Award…Again
They really should just re-name the Sixth Man of the Year Award the “LouWill Award”, as Lou Williams seems to take it home every year.
After another great season, Williams once again won that award. It was his second year in a row and third time winning it in the last five years.
While he came off the bench, Williams was the Los Angeles Clippers leading scorer this season, averaging an even 20 points per game.
Along with his ability to score at will, Williams has really improved as a play maker since coming over to the Clippers two years ago.
Williams has averaged just over three assists per game throughout his career, but has now eclipsed five assists per game in each of the last two season in L.A.
By winning the award for a third time, Williams joins Jamal Crawford as the only other player to accomplish that feat.
There may not be odds out yet on who will take home next year’s Sixth Man of the Year Award, but chances are Williams is the odds-on favorite.
Luka Doncic Wins Rookie of the Year Award
Luka Doncic came into the NBA as one of the most hyped international players in recent memory, when he was picked third overall in 2018 NBA Draft.
Doncic was on the heels of winning a EuroLeague championship, as well as the league’s MVP award.
Doncic proved that his skills would easily translate into the NBA game, as he put together an incredible first season for the Mavericks. In doing so, Doncic earned himself some hardware, as the league’s Rookie of the Year.
Doncic averaged 21.2 points, 7.8 rebound and six assists per game, instantly becoming the new face of the Dallas Mavericks. He is also the first Maverick to take home the award since another talented point guard did in 1995.
While Doncic plays for the Mavericks he technically was not drafted by Dallas. Instead he was selected by the Hawks and traded to the Mavericks in a deal that sent another rookie, Trae Young, to Atlanta.
Because of that trade, those two point guards will always be connected in some way. Young had a great rookie year in his own right, averaging 19.1 points and leading all rookies with his 8.1 assists per game.
After winning the award, Doncic made sure to give Young some love for his great season as the runner-up.
If there first season is any indication, both players are just embarking on what should be long careers in the NBA.
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