A player winning back-to-back NBA MVP awards is rare, something that’s happened only 13 times in league history. And having done that last season, Nikola Jokic, the superstar of the Denver Nuggets, is now trying for something even more surreal and unusual, by winning it three years in a row.
The only players who have pulled off that feat are Bill Russell (1961, 1962, 1963), Wilt Chamberlain (1966, 1967, 1968) and Larry Bird (1984, 1985, 1986).
The Nuggets aren’t keeping that fact a secret from Jokic.
“No, I challenged him,” said Nuggets coach Michael Malone, who flew to Serbia last summer to surprise Jokic with his second straight award.
Jokic is obviously among the favorites. Until this past season, there had never been a stretch of four consecutive international MVPs in the NBA. Jokic changed that, winning each of the last two awards after Milwaukee’s Giannis Antetokounmpo (Greece) won in 2019 and 2020.
Non U.S Players on a Rare MVP Streak
And right now, it would seem almost likely that the MVP streak for non-U.S.-born players goes to five in a row, with Jokic, Antetokounmpo, Dallas’ Luka Doncic (Slovenia) and Philadelphia’s Joel Embiid among the favorites. Embiid was born in Cameroon and holds French and now U.S. citizenship.
Bookmakers say Doncic is the favorite, just ahead of Embiid and Antetokounmpo. Jokic is fourth in terms of lowest odds, tied with Brooklyn’s Kevin Durant and just ahead of Memphis’ Ja Morant, Boston’s Jayson Tatum and Golden State’s Stephen Curry.
King James Climbing
LeBron James isn’t just on target to become the NBA’s all-time scoring leader this season; he’s 1,325 points behind Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, and at his average career scoring pace would need about 49 games to move into the No. 1 spot.
He’s also set to keep moving up a bunch of other lists, including:
Assists: James is seventh right now with 10,045, behind No. 6 Magic Johnson (10,141), No. 5 Mark Jackson (10,334) and No. 4 Steve Nash (10,335). That would put him behind only John Stockton (15,806), Jason Kidd (12,091) and Chris Paul (10,977 entering this season).
Games: James has been in 1,366, currently 14th-most all-time. He needs to appear in 27 games to pass Tim Duncan (1,392) for 10th on the NBA career list, and could potentially catch Kevin Willis (1,424) for eighth.
3-pointers: James is 11th in NBA history with 2,140, three behind Portland’s Damian Lillard and the retired Paul Pierce, who enter this year tied for ninth.
Seasons: James is entering Year 20. He’ll be the ninth player to appear in 20 seasons.
Speaking of 20
Miami’s Udonis Haslem will be the 10th player to appear in 20 seasons, assuming that LeBron James gets into a game before Haslem does.
Haslem is one of only three players to spend 20 years with one team, joining Dallas’ Dirk Nowitzki (21) and the Lakers’ Kobe Bryant (20).
If Carmelo Anthony, who is unsigned, gets into a game this season, that’ll mark Year 20 for the former Syracuse great as well.
Pop on a Roll
San Antonio Spurs Coach , Gregg Popovich turns 74 on Jan. 28, and he’s the oldest active head coach in the NBA.
The Septuagenarian has faced 163 different coaches so far in his legendary career. That list should reach at least 166 this season, with him slated to oppose Los Angeles Lakers coach Darvin Ham, interim Boston coach Joe Mazzulla and former Spurs assistant Will Hardy — now the coach in Utah — all for the first time.
There have been 322 coaches in NBA history, not including Popovich, who have coached at least 10 games. Popovich, the NBA’s all-time wins leader, has faced more than half of them — 50.3%, or 162.
Spoelstra on the brink of Top 20 All-Time Wins
Still on Coaches, Miami’s Erik Spoelstra, whose tenure with the Heat is the second-longest of any current coach in his current job, behind only San Antonio’s Gregg Popovich — should move into the top 20 on the NBA’s all-time wins list this season.
Spoelstra starts the season with 660 wins, behind No. 22 Mike Fratello (667), No. 21 Mike D’Antoni (672) and No. 20 Red Holzman (696). No. 19 John MacLeod (707) is within legitimate reach for Spoelstra this season as well.
Philadelphia’s Doc Rivers enters the year No. 9 on the list with 1,043 wins, which is 55 behind No. 8 Larry Brown. Indiana’s Rick Carlisle has 861 wins, three back of No. 14 Jack Ramsay.
The NBA is 26,324 points away from reaching 14 million all-time.
A record 291,912 points were scored last season, including playoffs. There have been years where more points were scored on average per game — 16 of them, actually. NBA games saw an average of 220.6 points last season, 16 points per game less than the record of 236.6 set in 1961-62.
At last year’s pace, the 14 millionth point would be scored roughly 120 games into this season. or sometime in early November.