It's not easy to stand out in the NBA. You're going against the best players in the world and unless you're a superstar playing in a big market, chances are that you're not going to get that much attention.
That makes it especially hard for foreign players to win the MVP award. The media often talks about the most popular players and teams and those who have the bigger fan bases. It's just the way it goes.
Nonetheless, a handful of international players has been able to win this accolade and pave the way for many more to come. As a matter of fact, a foreign player has won the award for 3 straight years now.
That's why today, we're going to honor them by letting you know about the only 5 foreign NBA players to win this award.
Note: Even though Tim Duncan was born outside of the U.S. in the Virgin Islands, that's still American territory, so we won't count him for this article.
5. Hakeem Olajuwon - 1993-94
Even though his name isn't mentioned as often as it should've, Hakeem Olajuwon is perhaps the most skilled big man in NBA history. Not only he was a menace as a shot blocker but he could also defend the perimeter and had one of the best footwork ever.
Hakeem was the most dominant player in the league during Michael Jordan's first retirement, leading the Houston Rockets to back-to-back rings and winning both MVP and Defensive Player of the Year in the very same season.
Throughout the year, the Nigerian big man averaged a whopping 27.3 points to go along with 11.9 rebounds, 3.6 assists, 1.6 steals, and 3.7 blocks per game on 52% shooting and 41 minutes a night. That's one of the greatest MVP seasons ever and he also won Finals MVP.
4. Steve Nash - 2004-05, 2005-06
Shaquille O'Neal will forever say that Steve Nash stole one or two MVPs from him but that's just not true. We can all agree that his numbers weren't the most impressive in the league but he was still the best point guard in the world and the leader of one of the best teams in the league.
Nash completely changed the way the point guard position was played and he was the most efficient scorer in the league in his prime. He led the league in assists per game in those two seasons and even had a 50/40/90 year.
The Canadian superstar averaged 15.5 points, 3.3 rebounds, 11.5 assists, 1.0 steals, and 1.3 three-pointers per game in his first MVP season, followed by 18.8 points, 4.2 rebounds, 10.5 assists, 0.8 steals, and 1.9 triples in the next one.
3. Dirk Nowitzki - 2006-07
Dirk Nowitzki did enough merits throughout his career to be considered the greatest foreign player in NBA history, at least until further notice. He led the Dallas Mavericks to their lone NBA Championship and scored over 30,000 career points.
The German forward was at his best during the 2006-07 campaign. He averaged 24.6 points, 8.9 rebounds, 3.4 assists, and 0.9 three-pointers per game on 50/41/90 shooting splits.
Nowitzki paved the way for the modern big man with his ability to stretch the floor and knock down shots over every single defender in the world. He was the ultimate modern power forward.
2. Giannis Antetokounmpo - 2018-19, 2019-20
Even though he has yet to find success in the playoffs, we can't deny that Giannis Antetokounmpo has already piled up a first-ballot Hall of Famer kind of résumé in his brief career in the league.
Not only he won back-to-back MVPs but he was also named Defensive Player of the Year last season and for very good reasons, as he was the heart and soul of the impressive Milwaukee Bucks.
The Greek Freak averaged 27.7 points, 12.5 rebounds, 5.9 assists, 1.3 steals, and 1.5 blocks per game on 57% shooting in his first MVP season, followed by 29.5 points, 13.6 rebounds, 5.6 assists, 1.0 steals, and 1.0 blocks per game on 55% shooting in the next one. That's just insane.
1. Nikola Jokic - 2020-21
And last but not least, we find the first Serbian player to win the MVP award, and the lowest drafted (41st overall pick) player to be granted this honor: The one and only Nikola Jokic
Jokic has already established himself as the greatest passing big man in NBA history. He's the archetype of the modern big and has better playmaking skills than most point guards in the league.
He's coming off averaging a whopping 8.3 assists per game to go along with 26.4 points and 10.8 rebounds on 56.6% from the floor. He was top-5 in total points, rebounds, and assists, while also playing all 72 games. If those aren't MVP-caliber numbers then I don't know what they are.