Embiid, who finished second behind Nikola Jokic in the voting for the award each of the past two seasons, flipped the script this time around, finishing ahead of both Jokic and Milwaukee Bucks forward Giannis Antetokounmpo for the league’s top individual honor.
What had felt like a tight race throughout much of the season ended up a blowout, with Embiid garnering 73 of the 100 available first-place votes (915 total). Jokic had 15 first-place votes (674 total), while Antetokounmpo had 12 first-place votes (606). Boston Celtics forward Jayson Tatum finished fourth and Oklahoma City Thunder guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander finished fifth.
“I don’t even know where to start,” Embiid said during an interview on “Inside The NBA” after winning the award. “It’s been a long time coming, a lot of hard work. I’ve been through a lot, and I’m not just talking about basketball … it feels good. I don’t know what to say. It’s amazing.”
The win for Embiid marks the third straight for a center after Jokic’s wins the past two seasons, and the fifth straight overall for an international player dating back to Antetokounmpo’s victories in the 2019 and 2020 seasons. Before the past five years, the only international players to win the MVP were Hakeem Olajuwon in 1993-94, Steve Nash in 2005-06 and Dirk Nowitzki in 2006-07.
The MVP this season was renamed after Michael Jordan this season as part of an overall overhaul of the league’s awards.
Embiid, 29, had his best season for the 76ers this season, leading the NBA in scoring for a second straight year while improving his efficiency — averaging career-highs of both 33.1 points and 54.8 percent shooting, to go along with 10.2 rebounds, 4.2 assists and 1.7 blocks per game.
He has also missed the past two weeks with a sprained LCL in his right knee that he suffered in Game 3 of Philadelphia’s first round series against the Brooklyn Nets. The injury has forced him to miss both the final game of that series and Philadelphia’s stunning victory over the Boston Celtics Monday night in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference semifinals behind 45 points from James Harden.
When asked if he would be ready to play by Game 2 on Wednesday, Embiid demurred, saying “we shall see.”
Jokic, meanwhile, nearly became the first center — and only third player ever, joining Russell Westbrook and Oscar Robertson — to average a triple-double for a season, finishing with averages of 24.5 points, 11.8 rebounds and 9.8 assists while shooting 63 percent from the field for the Western Conference-leading Nuggets. Embiid denied him a chance to become just the fourth player in NBA history to win three straight MVP awards, joining Larry Bird — the last player to do it, from 1984-86 — Bill Russell and Wilt Chamberlain.
Antetokounmpo, a two-time MVP winner in his own right, averaged 31.1 points, 11.8 rebounds and 5.7 assists for Milwaukee this season. He led the Bucks to the best record in the league before missing two entire games, and part of a third, with a back injury in Milwaukee’s shocking loss to the Miami Heat in the first round of the playoffs last week.
Throughout the season, ESPN’s MVP Straw Polls tracked just how close this race was going to be. Back in December, Tatum led the initial straw poll but had less than half of the overall first-place votes, showing that it was still a wide-open race. When the second edition of the straw poll was conducted the week leading into the All-Star Break, Jokic had a commanding lead, claiming 77 out of 100 first-place votes to finish ahead of Antetokounmpo and Embiid, respectively.
But between then and the final straw poll coming out in late March, Jokic and the Nuggets struggled throughout the month of March, while Embiid went on an absolute tear after the All-Star Break, sending Philadelphia charging up the standings while facing the league’s most difficult schedule.
As a result, Embiid wound up moving to the top of the final straw poll in late March despite finishing with fewer first-place votes than Jokic.
Embiid made his closing argument with a dominant 52-point, 13-rebound performance to beat the Celtics during the final week of the regular season.