Inspiring tales of success abound in the NBA, but the most fascinating ones occur when the unlikeliest of heroes do extraordinary feats. The title of Most Valuable Player (MVP) in basketball is usually reserved for the sport’s greatest players, those who constantly raise the bar for their team’s play.
However, every once in a while, an underdog comes out of nowhere and surprises everyone by performing at a spectacular level. The underdog mentality is strong in the NBA, as seen by these players, all of whom have inspiring backstories.
Their unexpected MVP awards show the world how unpredictable sports can be and how much potential every player has. In this piece, we honor the three most surprising MVPs in NBA history.
3. Giannis Antetokounmpo – 2019 and 2020, Milwaukee Bucks
Giannis Antetokounmpo, originally from Athens, Greece, was picked by the Milwaukee Bucks in 2013 with the 15th overall pick. Giannis, who had a tough upbringing in a poor neighborhood of Athens and began his basketball career by peddling timepieces, didn’t seem like he was destined for the NBA.
His stature, speed, and talent, together with his dogged work ethic, allowed him to develop into a star player in the league. He earned the MVP title for the first time in 2019, and his dominant play surprised both fans and observers. He won the award for the second year in a row, in 2020.
The rise of Giannis to NBA superstardom from modest origins is nothing short of remarkable. His hard work, persistence, and enormous skill led to an unexpected ascension to NBA MVP status.
2. Allen Iverson – 2001, Philadelphia 76ers
In a league where most players are over 6 feet tall, Allen Iverson never let his height limit his effect on the court. Iverson was a player who consistently confounded expectations with his speed, quickness, and ability to put points on the board.
Iverson led the Philadelphia 76ers to the NBA Finals in 2000–01 while averaging 31.1 points per game. Iverson’s exceptional play that year led to his being named the league’s most valuable player despite the fact that his team was not favored to win the championship. His ability to boost his team’s performance despite being one of the league’s tiniest players led to him being named MVP.
1. Steve Nash – 2005 and 2006, Phoenix Suns
Even though he was a talented point guard, few people expected him to achieve the heights he did while playing for the Phoenix Suns. Canadian-born South African Steve Nash was a competent player for the Dallas Mavericks, but he became a superstar after moving to the Phoenix Suns.
In 2005, Nash guided the Suns to 62 victories—the most in the NBA—after finishing with only 29 the year before. He was a game-changer thanks to his lethal shooting, precision passing, and basketball savvy.
In recognition of his exceptional talent and leadership on the court, he was named MVP, a feat he repeated the following year. His two consecutive MVP awards further cemented Nash’s position as one of the game’s all-time best point guards.