Philadelphia 76ers centre and league-scoring champion Joel Embiid has earned his first National Basketball Association (NBA) MVP trophy, topping two-time winner Nikola Jokic of the Denver Nuggets.
The 29-year-old from Yaoundé, Cameroon averaged 33.1 points to win his second straight scoring title, averaged 10.2 rebounds and tied a career high with 4.2 assists per game.
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Embiid played in 66 games, the second-highest total of his career, but again has been hit with injuries in the playoffs. He has been sidelined with a sprained right knee that cost him one game of the playoff sweep against Brooklyn and the opening game of the Eastern Conference semifinals against Boston, which was won by Philadelphia on Monday night.
Jokic finished runner-up and Giannis Antetokounmpo of the Milwaukee Bucks was third. Embiid received 73 first-place votes. Jokic received 15 first-place votes, and Antetokounmpo got 12.
“It’s been a long time coming,” Embiid said on Tuesday. “A lot of hard work. I’ve been through a lot. I’m not just talking about basketball. I’m talking about my life. My story. Where I come from. How I got here and what it took for me to be here.”
The 76ers watched on TV in Boston and erupted in applause and started chanting “MVP! MVP! ” as the seven-foot (2.12-metre) Embiid buried his head in his hands as he sat in a chair. He was in tears as teammates James Harden, Tobias Harris and Tyrese Maxey mobbed him in celebration.
Embiid then pledged “I’ll be back” for the playoff series against the Celtics.
But as for Game 2 on Wednesday night?
“We shall see,” Embiid said.
Embiid has been determined to win – and campaigned for – the most valuable player (MVP) trophy for years. The third overall pick of the 2014 draft, Embiid missed his first two full seasons with injuries before settling in as one of the top big men of his generation. He was at his best this season when he totalled three 50-point games, including a career-high 59 against Utah in November. He had 13 total 40-point games.
When Embiid totalled 52 points and 13 rebounds in a win against the Celtics in April, coach Doc Rivers boldly declared: “The MVP race is over.”
Embiid certainly didn’t argue that night with his coach or Sixers teammates who stumped on his behalf.
“They’re probably right,” Embiid said. “But we have bigger goals in mind.”
Embiid, 29, is the second player from Africa to win the prestigious award, joining only Hakeem Olajuwon (1993-94).
Embiid is the first 76er to win league MVP since Allen Iverson in 2001. Julius Erving in 1981, Moses Malone in 1983 and Wilt Chamberlain in 1966-1968 are other 76ers to win NBA MVP awards.
Embiid’s injury could be the deciding factor in the 76ers’ chase for the NBA championship. The Sixers are trying to win their first NBA title since 1983 and advance past the second round for the first time since 2001 – which was the last time a Sixer won the MVP award.
Embiid, who graduated from a Florida high school and played a season in college at Kansas, has been every bit the dominant force in the NBA over the past seven seasons. Once the poster child for load management, Embiid has played 134 regular-season games the last two seasons and his 30.6 points last season made him the first international player ever to win an NBA scoring title. He’s a six-time All-Star and was runner-up each of the last two seasons to Jokic.
Jayson Tatum of the Celtics collected 89 fourth-place votes and one third-place vote to finish fourth in voting at 280 points. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander of the Oklahoma City Thunder (46 points) rounded out the top five after a career year.
For the first time in his two-decade career, LeBron James of the Los Angeles Lakers did not receive a single vote for MVP.