Philadelphia 76ers center Joel Embiid wins first MVP

Philadelphia 76ers center Joel Embiid won the NBA's Most Valuable Player award for the 2022-23 season, the league announced Tuesday, finally claiming the prestigious trophy after finishing second the past two seasons.

Embiid flipped the script with a dominant season as he finished ahead of Denver Nuggets center Nikola Jokic and Milwaukee Bucks forward Giannis Antetokounmpo for the league's top individual honor.

What seemed like a tight race throughout much of the season ended as 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 captured 12 (606). Boston Celtics forward Jayson Tatum finished fourth, and Oklahoma City Thunder guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander was 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."

Embiid has been determined to win -- and campaigned for -- the MVP trophy for years. The third overall pick of the 2014 draft, Embiid missed his first two full seasons because of injuries before settling in as a perennial All-Star and All-NBA player. The affable center became the face of the 76ers' rebuilding effort more commonly known as "The Process." He embraced the nickname and is introduced before every home game as Joel "The Process" Embiid.

The 29-year-old from Yaoundé, Cameroon, had a career year, leading the NBA in scoring for a second straight season while improving his efficiency -- averaging career highs of 33.1 points and 54.8% shooting, to go along with 10.2 rebounds, 4.2 assists and 1.7 blocks per game.

The win for Embiid marks the third straight season a center has claimed the award, with Jokic winning the past two seasons. It is the fifth consecutive year 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 (2005-06) and Dirk Nowitzki in (2006-07).

The MVP award was renamed after Michael Jordan this season as part of an overhaul of the league's awards.

The Sixers have been without their MVP for the past two weeks as Embiid is sidelined by a sprained lateral collateral ligament in his right knee that he suffered in Game 3 of Philadelphia's first-round series against the Brooklyn Nets. The injury forced him to miss both the final game of that series and Philadelphia's stunning victory over the Boston Celtics on 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 the third player ever, after 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% 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 (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 games, and part of a third, because of 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 what appeared to be a close race. In December, Tatum led the initial poll but had fewer 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 in late March, Jokic and the Nuggets struggled throughout the month, 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 moved to the top of the final straw poll 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.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.