The NBA has experienced a handful of changes in the past year, some good, some bad, depending on your personal preference. The East is as open and competitive as ever, LeBron left Cleveland and will miss the playoffs with LA, and there will NOT be a Cleveland vs GSW finals part 5.

One thing fans will find familiar from last year; however, was the thrilling MVP race between the game’s best player and the game’s best scorer. LeBron James and James Harden both carried their respective teams all year, truly emphasizing the “V” in MVP. James Harden eventually won the award for the first time after losing out to former teammate Russell Westbrook the year before. This year, much like last, Harden finds himself in the midst of a hotly contested 2 horse showdown for the leagues most coveted individual accolade, this time, with a 24 year old kid who plays in Milwaukee.

Yes, I said kid, because that’s what he is. Even though you’d hardly recognize him after he came into the league 6 years and 50 pounds of muscle ago. Giannis Antetokounmpo has put the Bucks back on the basketball map and has steamrolled his way to the top of the NBA MVP conversation this season. Averaging 27, 12 and 6, the Greek Freak has been, simply put per the Bucks social media campaigns, “The best player. On the Best team.” The Bucks have been the best team in the NBA all year, with a record of 56-19, they will be the 1 seed in the East and have to be considered favorites to go to the Finals.

Photo: Daily Express

Harden fans will argue his historic 30 point scoring streak and impressive ppg numbers this year, the best we’ve seen since Jordan, and it’s hard to argue, but understand that this isn’t New York, LA, Chicago, or even Houston Giannis has done this for…it’s Milwaukee, a relatively quiet, unimpressive franchise for most of the last decade or so. Yes, Giannis has a great team around him; Brogdon, Middleton, Mirotic, Bledsoe, Lopez are all great players who play for a former coach of the year in Mike Budenholzer when he was with Atlanta, but it is just so hard to imagine these guys playing this cohesively as a unit, this well individually, in Milwaukee, if Giannis wasn’t there (Look at Bledsoe in Phoenix). While Harden certainly has a supporting cast as well, some argue the Houston style of basketball doesn’t emphasize teamwork, or a winning culture, and perhaps the root of that problem is Harden’s tendency to chuck up an absurd amount of shots per game rather than run efficient plays, and despite being second in the league in steals per game, overall, plays rather lackluster defense. Giannis is in the conversation for DPOY and despite being almost 7 feet, almost every play runs through him. A 7 foot point guard?

Fans of both will argue back and forth all day, the point is, consider the impact of Giannis taking the silverware home this year. LeBron, the best player in the game, is out of the playoffs. The Warriors are still phenomenal, but something seems off, is this their swan song as a group? Anyone in the East feels like they can make it. Like I said, basketball is changing and, perhaps, this year exemplifies a changing of the guard. Could a Greek-Nigerian be the new face of an American professional league? It could be the best thing for the NBA.

Basketball is huge around the world, followed in every corner. The FIBA World Cup in China this summer is sure to be a great spectacle, where Giannis will play, and the NBA is very passionately followed in other countries, even if they have their own league, simply because it is the cream of the cop. In most countries besides the USA, though, basketball takes a backseat to soccer. Compare that to the USA. Soccer is widely growing in America, and we very closely follow the World Cup, English Premier League, La Liga, and Champions League; the very best of the best, even thought they are other countries’ leagues. The best thing for soccer in America was when David Beckham, a world superstar, made the move from Real Madrid, the biggest club in the world, to the LA Galaxy. It revolutionized the sport in America rapidly and helped grow the MLS and national team fanbases and development due to rising interest.

Fast forward to now, only 3 MVP winners in the history of the NBA have been foreigners, Hakeem Olajuwon (Nigeria), Steve Nash (Canada) twice, and Dirk Nowitzki (Germany). None were ever the face of the league. Should Giannis rightfully claim the prize, which he so humbly does not care about, he will be winning it at the perfect time.

Photo: The Ringer

After Magic Johnson it was Michael Jordan, then it was Kobe, then LeBron as the heirs to being the face of the league. For the NBA to maintain it’s excitement factor not only in America but the rest of the world, it needs a superstar to watch every time the playoffs come. With LeBron out, it is time for Giannis, at 24, to take the throne. He has risen to stardom and with his MVP campaign, the time is now. He has more dunks than entire teams, his displays in the all star game show he is ready for the spotlight and he won’t disappoint. For a poor kid from Greece to become the face of the NBA would not only continue the legacy the past greats left, but perhaps enhance it due to the global aspect the name Giannis Antetokounmpo brings. Just look at the amount of Greek flags that appear at every away game he is at. He brings a sense of national pride. Just yesterday I heard Bosnian fans at a soccer game(vs Greece ironically) singing Jusuf Nurkic’s name in support of his horrific injury.

There will be more of that with a growing international presence, where participation is not just celebrated, but now excellence expected. Other nations will be desperately trying to produce their own version of Giannis. Basketball will grow more than we know. A foreigner as the face of the NBA will personify this passion for the league across the world.

I’m not advocating for this award to be a popularity contest, and good thing it’s not, Giannis is low profile and isn’t as big a scorer as Harden. Milwaukee is a town compared to Houston, the 4th largest metro area in the country.

What he does for the Bucks on the court should win the award and his value merits that. The aftermath of an historic triumph followed by a dominant playoffs could pay huge dividends for the NBA’s global brand and basketball’s worldwide development.

Featured Image: NBA.com
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