What a historic and dominant season it has been for Africa in the just ended NBA Awards season. First off, the Toronto Raptors made history when they won their first-ever NBA championship after beating favorites, the Golden State Warriors preventing them from winning a 3-peat. This incredible feat wouldn’t have been possible without the immeasurable contributions of their Nigerian president and the first African NBA Executive Masai Ujiri as well as roster players Serge Ibaka and Pascal Siakam.
In Philadelphia, Cameroonian star Joel Embiid led the 76ers to the Eastern Conference semi-finals where they squared off against eventual winners, the Raptors.
In Milwaukee, Nigerian-Greek sensation Giannis Antetokounmpo also had a very stellar season almost leading the Bucks to the NBA finals only to be beaten by the Raptors in the Eastern Conference finals.
To wrap up the season, the 2019 NBA Awards was held on Monday at the Barker Hangar in Santa Monica to recognize outstanding players from the just ended season.
Making the continent proud, Cameroonian star, Pascal Siakam, took home the Most Improved Player award beating De’Aaron Fox (Sacramento Kings) and D’Angelo Russell (Brooklyn Nets).
Born in Douala, Cameroon, Siakam, at a certain point in his life was training to become a Catholic priest. A graduate of Ujiri’s Basketball Without Borders, Siakam, who had an exceptional regular season with an average of 16.9 points per game was also very instrumental in the NBA finals. He pulled off his best playoff performance in game 1 when he finished as the team’s top scorer with 32 points.
?️ @pskills43 x #KiaMIP! #NBAAwards pic.twitter.com/U0c4WGfZls— NBA (@NBA) June 25, 2019
“I want to thank the Toronto Raptors for believing in me — a little scrawny kid from Cameroon,” Siakam said when he received the award.
The 25-year old also paid homage to his family and deceased father.
“For the people who know my story, also know how important my dad is and him not being able to be here today,” he said.
“He had this crazy dream – that this would be possible and me being here,” he added. “I’m just blessed to be able to make his dream a reality.”
Born to Nigerian parents in Athens, Greece, Giannis Sina Ougko Antetokounmpo a.k.a. ‘The Greek Freak’ took home the highest honor of the night – the Most Valuable Player, beating Paul George (Oklahoma City Thunder) and James Harden (Houston Rockets).
? @Giannis_An34 represents for ??! #KiaMVP #NBAAwards pic.twitter.com/Auj5tmGXqh— NBA (@NBA) June 25, 2019
Giannis, who also lost his father in 2017 paid homage to him as well his mother and brother in what was a very teary and emotional acceptance speech.
“I want to thank my dad. Obviously, you know, he’s not here with me. Two years ago, I had the goal in my head that I’m going to be the best player in the league and I’m going to do whatever it takes to help my team win and I’m going to win the MVP,” he said.
“Everyday that I step on the floor, I always think about my dad and that motivates me, that pushes me to play harder and move forward.”
Take a look at his full speech below: