Thrilling Moments of 2023: LeBron James’ Scoring Feat, Victor Wembanyama’s Debut, and More in the Top 10 NBA Highlights that Ignited Fandom!

The top NBA moments of 2023 that fueled our fandom included LeBron James setting the all-time scoring record, Nikola Jokić and the Denver Nuggets' championship, the arrival of Victor Wembanyama and the

The NBA had plenty of moments that fueled our fandom in 2023, from broken records to the arrival of the next big thing to outstanding performances on the court and drama off it. Here are the top 10 moments of 2023.

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The Year of LeBron James

Let’s just call 2023 “The Year of LeBron James.” Even at nearly 39 years old, James continues to dominate the NBA in ways we’ve never seen before. In February, he set the all-time scoring record, overtaking Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. He then led the Los Angeles Lakers to the Western Conference finals before falling to the eventual champion Denver Nuggets. He briefly floated retiring after the Lakers’ season ended, but those ideas didn’t last long as he came into the 2023-24 season with a vengeance. He led the Lakers to an undefeated run in the NBA’s inaugural in-season tournament to win the first NBA Cup. We are a few days from his 39th birthday, and the King doesn’t look like he’s slowing down anytime soon.

From Dan Devine in February after James set the scoring record:

LeBron James walked into the NBA able to hang 25 points on a good defense. I mean that literally: The first game he ever played as a pro, on Oct. 29, 2003, came against a Sacramento Kings team that had finished the previous season second in the league in defensive efficiency … and he scored 25 points.

It wasn’t the highest-scoring debut the NBA had ever seen; that record, like so many others, belongs to Wilt. But it was (and still is) the high-water mark for an 18-year-old — a “mesmerizing” performance, as The Associated Press put it, that featured “skills no teenager had ever displayed at this level” and more than lived up to the towering hype surrounding the No. 1 pick in the 2003 NBA Draft.

“I was just fortunate to get some shots, and they fell through,” James told reporters after the game. “Most of the moves I used in high school, I could use here.”

It’s true: Much of what James put on display that first night in Sacramento, he’d already showcased at St. Vincent-St. Mary High School in Akron, Ohio, where he’d become one of the most decorated and highly touted prep players ever. LeBron had drawn comparisons to Kobe Bryant, Tracy McGrady and Magic Johnson as a sophomore; he was anointed Michael Jordan’s heir apparent, The Chosen One, before his senior year … in high school.

He was, as Ian Thomsen wrote in his 2018 book, “The Soul of Basketball,” “the most gifted prospect the NBA scouts had ever seen … the anticipation for his greatness was almost universal.” It’s a long road from anticipation to actualization, though — and an even longer one from that first one-dribble baseline pull-up to the shot that moved James ahead of Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and into position as the all-time leading scorer in NBA history.

LeBron James set the all-time scoring record in 2023, and showed no signs of slowing down in a prolific career. (Illustration by Amber Matsumoto/Yahoo Sports)
LeBron James set the all-time scoring record in 2023 and showed no signs of slowing down in a prolific career. (Illustration by Amber Matsumoto/Yahoo Sports)

The arrival of Victor Wembanyama

San Antonio Spurs rookie Victor Wembanyama celebrates after winning his first NBA game on Oct. 27, 2023. (Photo by CHANDAN KHANNA/AFP via Getty Images)

If 2023 belonged to James, the future belongs to the 7-foot-4 Frenchman and generational talent being compared to the King — Victor Wembanyama. The day after the 2022 draft, Wembanyama was already atop Yahoo Sports’ 2023 mock draft rankings and stayed there through his ultimate selection. When the pingpong balls fell San Antonio’s way during the NBA Draft Lottery in May, it seemed poetic that head coach Gregg Popovich would get another opportunity to develop a generational talent. At Las Vegas Summer League, all-day session tickets sold out in advance as fans wanted to get an early glimpse at Wembanyama. His debut wasn’t spectacular — nine points, eight rebounds and five blocks — but he made up for it with his second, and final, Summer League game.

From Vincent Goodwill in October after Wembanyama’s NBA regular-season debut:

SAN ANTONIO — It felt like everything for the show, and the show was big.

A billboard hung right off the freeway headed into San Antonio’s Frost Bank Center, with Victor Wembanyama having his arms stretched out wide.

No word if it was actually life-sized.

Everything was primped and prepared for Wembanyama to step into his destiny, to announce to the world how easy this transition would be to regular-season basketball.

You saw it … in glimpses. It had starts and fits and nearly finished with a flurry before things went slightly awry.

Some of it was Wembanyama himself, sticking his hands in the cookie jar one too many times, putting himself on the bench for most of the second half. Some of it was the Dallas Mavericks, or most notably Luka Dončić being unwilling to accommodate his Texas neighbors, and a little bit of it was the Spurs players being unable to locate Wembanyama in the final three minutes after it was clear he had it going.

It’s only Game 1 of 82, and while so much was riding on Wembanyama’s debut, there are still so many steps to take, places to go. Wembanyama shook off an uneven start to unleash in the fourth quarter, scoring nine of his 15 points and adding five rebounds, two steals and a block in 23 minutes.

The San Antonio Spurs couldn’t hold off Dončić and Wembanyama draft mate Dereck Lively II, falling 126-119 Wednesday night. Dončić had his usual brilliant stat line, with 33 points, 13 rebounds and 10 assists while Lively lived up to his last name, springy and energetic on the way to 16 points and 10 rebounds off the bench.

Nikola Jokić is the best player in the world, and his Denver Nuggets are NBA champions

Already a two-time MVP and five-time All-Star, Nikola Jokić added the ultimate honor to his résumé in 2023: an NBA championship.

From Ben Rohrbach in June after the Nuggets won the title:

In a rock fight of a Game 5, the Denver Nuggets reached the NBA mountaintop from the foothills of the Rockies, winning their first championship and setting Nikola Jokić’s legacy as an all-timer in stone.

Battling foul trouble and a Miami Heat team that refused to die, Jokić amassed 28 points, 16 rebounds and four assists in a 94-89 victory in front of 19,537 raucous fans filling Ball Arena. Jokić received all votes in the Finals MVP voting, concluding a historic playoff run for the 7-foot Serbian and his Denver teammates.

As a two-time regular-season MVP and now champion, Jokić joins a heady list of basketball greats that includes only Bob Pettit, Bill Russell, Wilt Chamberlain, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Moses Malone, Larry Bird, Magic Johnson, Michael Jordan, Tim Duncan, LeBron James, Stephen Curry and Giannis Antetokounmpo.

“The job is done,” Jokić said on the postgame broadcast, humble as ever. “We can go home now.”

Nikola Jokić and the Denver Nuggets celebrate after defeating the Miami Heat to win the 2023 NBA championship at Ball Arena in Denver, on June 12, 2023. (Photo by Andy Cross/MediaNews Group/The Denver Post via Getty Images)
Nikola Jokić and the Denver Nuggets celebrate after defeating the Miami Heat to win the 2023 NBA championship at Ball Arena in Denver, on June 12, 2023. (Photo by Andy Cross/MediaNews Group/The Denver Post via Getty Images) (Andy Cross/MediaNews Group/The Denver Post via Getty Images via Getty Images)

From Vincent Goodwill in June:

Nikola Jokić soaked in the love, felt the vibes and unexpectedly was happy to spend parade day in Denver.

The Finals MVP, for once, allowed himself to live in the moment the past couple of days, showing the world a glimpse of his personality while still remaining true to his ethos — giving as little as possible.

But in it, he found out that participating isn’t so bad, that it doesn’t always have to be “play ball, go home, leave me alone.”

And because of the newfound validation of becoming a champion, more will be asked of him. It would help all involved if he obliged every now and again. He doesn’t have to be a statesman, but almost every stamped superstar in the league has had some kind of footprint beyond the 48 minutes on the floor.

Being foreign in an Americanized world can be intimidating if not off-putting. We assume players are comfortable in media settings when many times, the language barrier and anxiety can take over.

The awkward silence can draw uncomfortable laughs, but introverted types can go further into their shell in those moments.

But what does he owe the game, if anything? Does he owe the game more than his on-floor performance?

The championship and Finals MVP raised Jokić in The Bill Russell Scale ahead of the 2023-24 season. He scored a league-best 8.2 points on the scale last season, moving from outside the top 75 to a tie for 60th on this year’s list. He should be in the top 50 by 2024. A repeat performance of last season would vault Jokić into the top 40, ahead of two-time MVP Steve Nash. Two more seasons like his previous one, and Jokić will be knocking on the door of the pantheon at age 30.

Kings break longest playoff drought in NBA history

An exterior view of Golden 1 Center in Sacramento with the purple beam lit after a Kings win. (Photo by Lachlan Cunningham/Getty Images)
An exterior view of Golden 1 Center in Sacramento with the purple beam lit after a Kings win. (Photo by Lachlan Cunningham/Getty Images) (Lachlan Cunningham via Getty Images)

“Light the beam!” The Sacramento Kings’ purple laser into the sky began as a kitschy thing after wins and evolved into a rallying cry for a franchise starved for success. And in March, the Kings snapped North America’s longest postseason drought by clinching their first playoff spot in 16 years. Yes, 16 years.

From Dan Devine in March once the Kings clinched a 2023 playoffs spot:

With a 120-80 win [on March 29], the Sacramento Kings officially punched their ticket for the 2023 NBA playoffs. That’s right: After 16 long years, the longest playoff drought the NBA has ever seen is now officially over. Light the friggin’ beam.

It took a few extra days, but the Kings got an emphatic win over the depleted Portland Trail Blazers to control their own postseason destiny. “Light the beam” chants broke out at the end of the game … in Portland.

The Kings become just the third team in the Western Conference to clinch a playoff berth, joining the Denver Nuggets and Memphis Grizzlies. This, to put it mildly, is not what the sharp community expected prior to the season; heading into training camp, BetMGM set the over/under mark for Sacramento’s 2022-23 win total at 34.5 games. Those soft expectations came in the context of a decade and a half of calamity: The Kings hadn’t topped that number in three seasons and had beaten it just twice since 2005-06.

It wasn’t always like this. At the turn of this century, the Kings ranked among the league’s perennial powers. They made eight straight playoff appearances under head coach Rick Adelman, and won 50 or more games in five straight seasons, including a league-best 61 during the 2001-02 campaign that ended in shattering (and potentially nefarious) circumstances. Led by the likes of Chris Webber, Vlade Divac and Peja Stojaković, those Sacramento squads reveled in fast breaks, ball movement, 3-point bombing and highlight-reel finishes; their style exuded joy and packed the substance to match.

The script changed this season, though, thanks in large part to one mammoth change the Kings made at the 2022 trade deadline — sending ascendant young point guard Tyrese Haliburton and 3-point sharpshooter Buddy Hield to the Indiana Pacers in exchange for gifted offensive center Domantas Sabonis — and another they made in the offseason, hiring Mike Brown off the champion Warriors’ bench to be their new head coach.

Blockbuster trades shake up landscape in two seasons

The 2022-23 trade deadline was fast approaching with no real movement, until Kyrie Irving requested to be dealt from the Brooklyn Nets. It was widely assumed he would find his way to the Los Angeles Lakers and good friend LeBron James. Instead, the Nets sent Irving to the Dallas Mavericks. But the Nets weren’t done yet. As Irving made his Mavericks debut on national TV, Brooklyn imploded the remnants of its Big 3 experiment and traded Kevin Durant to the Phoenix Suns.

The league-shifting moves at the deadline portended a turbulent summer with two other league stars. James Harden, the third part of the ill-fated Nets Big 3, wasn’t happy in Philadelphia any longer, calling president of basketball operations Daryl Morey a liar during an event in China over the summer. The lie, it was assumed, was Morey was not facilitating Harden’s desire to play for the Los Angeles Clippers. A back-and-forth waged during the dog days of summer and spilled into the beginning of the season until finally in the early hours of Halloween, Morey sent Harden to LA.

James Harden got his wish and was traded to the Los Angeles Clippers after a turbulent summer of back-and-forth with the Philadelphia 76ers. (Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Images)

A similar stalemate played out in the Pacific Northwest where longtime Portland Trail Blazers guard Damian Lillard got tired of waiting for a championship-caliber team to come to him and requested a trade on the second day of free agency. Lillard reportedly only had eyes for the Miami Heat, but the Heat seemingly did not have anything to offer the Trail Blazers. So, Lillard and the Blazers remained at a standstill until late September when he was dealt to the Milwaukee Bucks in a move that surprised the entire league. The superstar movement in 2023 showed that player empowerment is still alive and well in the NBA, and gave us all something to talk about during even the slowest months.

From Jake Fischer after the Durant trade:

It was Phoenix. It was always Phoenix.

Even before Kevin Durant requested a trade from the Brooklyn Nets last June, mere minutes before the NBA’s 2022 free agency period began, word had already spread among league personnel: Durant’s eye was wandering toward the Suns. If he could ever angle away from the franchise Durant joined in 2019 alongside Kyrie Irving, the prospect of teaming with Chris Paul and Devin Booker loomed on a tantalizing horizon. One of the greatest point guards to ever patrol the court and one of the sport’s most dangerous scorers behind Durant were waiting in a warm-weather metropolis on a team flush with draft capital, plus Finals-tested players rife with trade value.

Durant never handed Brooklyn’s front office a list of preferred destinations last summer, sources told Yahoo Sports, but Nets staffers always knew. That’s an unwritten element of any savvy front office’s required acumen. The transaction world of the NBA is full of twists and winding turns among individual agendas and conflicting aspirations. Durant had told confidants of his interest in Phoenix, his admiration of Booker and the All-Star scorer’s evolving game, and that intel certainly made its way to Brooklyn officials as well as rival front offices — just as they’d gotten wind of James Harden’s growing desire to flee for Philadelphia.

Who knows what an open bidding for Durant would have brought? But few teams could have traded a commensurate haul to the Nets and still been left with a roster capable of supporting Durant’s chase for another ring. Could New Orleans or Memphis have a similar capacity to deal young players and draft capital? That’s for certain. But Phoenix was the ending Durant clearly sought for this script to include. By all accounts, the Suns and Nets worked on this blockbuster in relative quiet. Despite mounting speculation and league-wide curiosity on Durant’s availability this week, the news of a completed megadeal swiftly rumbled across the league like an unexpected blast.

Phoenix Suns forward Kevin Durant dribbles around Washington Wizards forward Kyle Kuzma during a game in Phoenix on Dec. 17, 2023. (AP Photo/Darryl Webb)

The scoring explosion: Damian Lillard and Donovan Mitchell go for 71 in a single game while 6 players average 30-plus

While James set the all-time scoring record this year, prolific scoring became a theme in 2023. Two players — Donovan Mitchell and Lillard — scored 71 points in the first two months of the year, marking the highest-scoring individual performances in six seasons.

From Ben Rohrbach in January after Mitchell’s 71-point game:

Cleveland Cavaliers guard Donovan Mitchell scored 71 points on Monday, six seasons after Phoenix Suns guard Devin Booker last scored 70 points in March 2017, marking the shortest timespan between 70-point games since (who else but …) Wilt Chamberlain did it six times over a 16-month period in the early 1960s.

Mitchell’s performance was comfortably the most efficient of the dozen 70-point games in NBA history, both in terms of true-shooting (78.9) and effective field-goal (75) percentages. He also recorded the lowest usage rate and highest assist rate in any 70-point effort. Nobody has ever scored so proficiently in the flow of a game. Granted, Mitchell required overtime to get his 70 points, but the Cavaliers needed each of his 42 second-half points, unlike how Booker added 18 of his points in the final four minutes of a lopsided loss.

Mitchell’s night was another reminder that Kobe Bryant’s single-game scoring record of 81 points for non-centers is well within reach, especially if one of today’s many prolific scorers takes as many shots as he did.

Fifty-three seasons and 50,964 games passed between the campaigns in which Chamberlain registered his final 70-point game and Booker logged his first. The NBA witnessed just three 70-point outings in that span (roughly one every 17,000 games): David Thompson (1978), David Robinson (1994) and Kobe Bryant (2006).

That Mitchell halved the average time between 70-point games over the previous six decades might seem anomalous. Except, 40-, 50- and 60-point games are also occurring with increased frequency. NBA players registered 13 60-point games, 105 50-point games and 743 40-point games in the 2010s — all record highs for a decade since Chamberlain’s video-game numbers muddied most individual data mining in the 1960s.

Cleveland Cavaliers guard Donovan Mitchell celebrates after scoring a franchise-record 71 points against the Chicago Bulls at Rocket Mortgage Fieldhouse in Cleveland, Ohio, on Jan. 2, 2023. (Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images)

Lillard also scored 50 points (Jan. 12, 2023) and 60 points (Jan. 25, 2023) ahead of his 71-point performance.

Along with the superlative performances, six players averaged over 30 points per game in the 2022-23 season: Joel Embiid (33.1), Luka Dončić (32.4), Lillard (32.2), Shai Gilgeous-Alexander (31.4), Giannis Antetokounmpo (31.) and Jayson Tatum (30.1).

Stars rise at the FIBA World Cup

The United States had lofty goals at the 2023 FIBA World Cup, but without top NBA superstars on the roster, the Americans had to settled for fourth place at the tournament. No matter, though, because stars were still born and narratives put on display.

From Jake Fischer in the Philippines after the bronze-medal game in September:

MANILA, Philippines — These are the games that later become remembered as chapters, when a bronze-medal match that could have been a forgettable, 4:30 a.m. ET snoozefest morphed into a thriller.

Remember when Team USA was down three key rotation pieces, because a nasty illness swept through half the roster and its coaching staff? Remember when Mikal Bridges intentionally missed a free throw right, then ripped the ball toward the corner, backpedaled behind the arc and cashed a heroic triple to force overtime? Remember Canada’s first victory over America at the FIBA World Cup, claiming the country’s first medal in tournament history — its first FIBA medal since the 1936 Olympics — with its own All-Star reinforcements bound for Paris in 2024?

An impending rivalry between the neighboring lands has been brewing with each bounce of international basketball over the past decade. And the Canadians’ 127-118 triumph over big brother south of the border now marks a beginning. What could create an epic tale for many years and tournaments to come.

“It’s good momentum for us. To hold onto that throughout this [NBA] season,” said Dillon Brooks, who scored a game-high 39 points on a blistering shooting display from distance. “I’ll see a lot of my [Canadian] teammates during this season, and guys that weren’t here. That’s just motivating to them as well, you know, to join us and re-up and get better to make a run in this Olympics.”

Canada's Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and the United States' Mikal Bridges battle during the bronze-medal game of the 2023 FIBA Basketball World Cup at the Mall of Asia Arena in Manila, Philippines. (Photo by Nicholas Muller/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)
Canada’s Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and the United States’ Mikal Bridges battle during the bronze-medal game of the 2023 FIBA Basketball World Cup at the Mall of Asia Arena in Manila, Philippines. (Photo by Nicholas Muller/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images) (SOPA Images via Getty Images)

Draymond Green’s antics: The best drama show running

Draymond Green’s fingerprints were all over 2023, and sometimes not in the best way. No matter, though, because NBA fans thrive on drama and Green is a willing participant. After the preseason punch heard ’round the league, the Golden State Warriors traded Jordan Poole to the Washington Wizards as part of a deal that landed Chris Paul in San Francisco.

Before the offseason trade, Green was involved in a postseason altercation when he stomped on Sacramento Kings center Domantas Sabonis’ chest during Game 2 of their opening-round series, earning him an ejection and one-game suspension. Green was called a “repeat offender” when the league handed out the suspension, which set him up for the 2023-24 season. He was suspended five games for a chokehold on Minnesota Timberwolves center Rudy Gobert in November. He returned for six games before his current indefinite suspension for a wild swing at Phoenix Suns center Jusuf Nurkić’s head.

Golden State Warriors forward Draymond Green has been involved in his share of controversy this year. (AP Photo/Loren Elliott)
Golden State Warriors forward Draymond Green has been involved in his share of controversy this year. (AP Photo/Loren Elliott) (ASSOCIATED PRESS)

From Jake Fischer in November on Poole’s start with the Wizards:

You could see the imagination in Jordan Poole’s face. The empty sea of chairs at 11 in the morning was actually roaring with another sellout Madison Square Garden crowd. Poole was not the fifth-year guard finding his new home with the Wizards. He was Carmelo Anthony, elbow tucked, all head fakes and jab steps as the leading man for the New York Knicks. He was the precocious preteen Poole’s father would bring to grown-man pickup and the 24-year-old who’s inherited the keys in Washington all at once.

The Wizards are now in Poole’s hands, at least in his eyes. He watched Stephen Curry’s steps throughout the Golden State franchise, throughout their run to the 2022 NBA championship, and imagined the day when the baton would be passed his way. “Obviously, I wanted to be in a position to have my own team, and then if it did come, how would I go about that?” Poole told Yahoo Sports. “Luckily, I’m able to do that so young, after learning from some of the best. It’s cool. It’s a smooth transition. We’re building everything from scratch, essentially. Building up a new foundation. Everything in Golden State was already established, so we kinda had to fit into the mold that they have there.”

Wizards folks have deemed this stretch a “reshaping” after moving on from Bradley Beal under a new front office. Three banners already hung from the rafters when the Warriors drafted Poole in 2019. There was culture from a fabric of particular stitches, weaved by Steve Kerr’s coaching staff and predicated within their player development. Everything, rightfully, orbited Curry’s historic shooting and the system that became further mastered with Klay Thompson and Draymond Green at his flank.

The 2023 postseason was spicy

We already highlighted the Nuggets’ championship, but the road to the Finals had a lot of gems along the way.

  • Diar DeRozan’s free-throw screams help her dad’s team knock out his previous one in the play-in tournament
  • Jimmy Butler goes off for 56 points in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference first round before eventually eliminating the No. 1-seeded Bucks
  • Stephen Curry drops 50 points in the Warriors’ closeout game over Northern California rival Sacramento in Game 7 of the Western Conference first round
  • Dillon Brooks, in his final games with the Grizzlies, said he “pokes bears” in reference to LeBron James, and well, that didn’t go great for Memphis
  • Derrick White hit a buzzer-beating putback in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference finals vs. the Heat to set up the winner-take-all Game 7

From Vincent Goodwill after Curry’s 50-point masterpiece:

SACRAMENTO, Calif. — Amid the pyrotechnics and flames shooting into the air of Golden 1 Center, there was a still on the sidelines — one that could’ve suggested after so many years of going through the playoff gauntlet the Golden State Warriors didn’t recognize the severity of a Game 7.

Already with his warmups off before the Sacramento Kings were announced, Stephen Curry looked steely and perhaps amused.

“Not as long as I’m still breathing,” Curry said to Yahoo Sports, upon the notion that he could be written off, that his team could be “too old” as Malik Monk candidly stated recently.

The Game 7 was old hat, but Curry still has more mountains to climb, more orneriness to shoot off from those fingertips.

Doubt him to your own peril, be it in the hallowed and historic TD Garden of Boston or the newness and novelty of Sacramento’s building.

Curry was determined to send the Warriors to a date with destiny, another dance with LeBron James. A record 50 points later, the date is set following a 120-100 series-clinching win over the Kings on Sunday afternoon.

Golden State Warriors guard Stephen Curry celebrates during Game 7 of the first round of the Western Conference playoffs against the Sacramento Kings at Golden 1 Center in Sacramento, on April 30, 2023. (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
Golden State Warriors guard Stephen Curry celebrates during Game 7 of the first round of the Western Conference playoffs against the Sacramento Kings at Golden 1 Center in Sacramento, on April 30, 2023. (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images) (Ezra Shaw via Getty Images)

Joel Embiid wins MVP after consecutive second-place finishes

The Most Valuable Player award clearly meant a lot to Joel Embiid, and the emotion he displayed when accepting the trophy caps off 2023’s best moments perfectly.

Philadelphia 76ers center Joel Embiid hoists the 2022-23 MVP trophy prior to Game 3 of the Eastern Conference second round against the Boston Celtics at Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia, on May 5, 2023. (Photo by Tim Nwachukwu/Getty Images)
Philadelphia 76ers center Joel Embiid hoists the 2022-23 MVP trophy prior to Game 3 of the Eastern Conference second round against the Boston Celtics at Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia, on May 5, 2023. (Photo by Tim Nwachukwu/Getty Images) (Tim Nwachukwu via Getty Images)

From Ben Rohrbach after Embiid won MVP:

Philadelphia 76ers center Joel Embiid finally broke through the barrier that Giannis Antetokounmpo and Nikola Jokić had built, beating both two-time NBA MVPs to win the first trophy named for Michael Jordan.

Embiid, who finished runner-up to Jokić each of the past two seasons, received 73 first-place votes and 915 total points from the 100-member media voting panel. He edged Jokić (15 first-place votes and 674 total points) in the most heated MVP discussion since Russell Westbrook defeated James Harden in 2017.

Antetokounmpo finished third with 12 first-place votes and 606 total points. Boston Celtics forward Jayson Tatum placed a distant fourth in the MVP voting, and Oklahoma City Thunder guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander rounded out the top five.

Jokić owned the advanced statistical advantage for a third straight season, and Antetokounmpo is, by most accounts, the best player alive, leading the NBA’s top-ranked team, but Embiid was a regular-season force.

He led the league in scoring for a second straight year, averaging 33.1 points per game (on 55/33/86 shooting splits) — the most by a center since Bob McAdoo averaged 34.5 in his 1975 MVP campaign. Embiid added 10.2 rebounds, 4.2 assists and 2.7 combined blocks and steals in 34.6 minutes a night.

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