Nikola Jokic Is An NBA Champion And Finals MVP, Serbia Is In The FIBA World Cup Finals | Is Serbia The New Basketball Capitol Of The World?

In the world of basketball, 2023 has been a big year for the Republic of Serbia. On Friday, Sept. 8, the Serbian men’s national team advanced to the FIBA World Cup Finals, after defeating Canada in the semis.

Serbia is the 3on3 World and European Cup champs. Darko Rajaković, a Serbian national, was named head coach of the Toronto Raptors this summer, and Serbia’s favorite son, Nikola Jokic, is the best player in the world and an NBA champion.

What’s in the water in a tiny landlocked country in southeast and central Europe with a population of less than 7 million people?

Serbia In The FIBA World Cup Finals

Serbia is enjoying quite a run in basketball these days. The men’s national team, without their best player, has advanced to the FIBA World Cup Finals. Led by the Atlanta Hawks’ Bogdan Bogdanović, they are on the verge of a gold medal. They will face Germany, which upset the United States in another semifinal game.

3on3 basketball has been extremely popular in recent years. When it was added as an Olympic sport in 2020, it gave other nations around the world an opportunity to have another basketball event to field a team and medal. Once 3on3 was adopted by the Olympics, all of the world and regional championships and tournaments would do the same.

Darko Rajaković was named head coach of the Toronto Raptors this summer and he has worked his way up to this level, beginning with coaching youth basketball in Serbia.

“I’d go watch him when he was a junior coach at (Serbian club) Red Star, and I remember watching him coaching 12-year-olds in a gym with no heat. And it was as if he was coaching the (Toronto) Raptors,” Oklahoma City Thunder GM Sam Presti said about Rajaković when Presti was an assistant GM with the San Antonio Spurs.

Presti brought Rajaković over to the United States and got him his first full-time job. He was a head coach in the D-League, now G-League, an assistant with the Thunder, Phoenix Suns, Memphis Grizzlies, and now the head coach of the Raptors.

Nikola Jokic

An even bigger miracle is the world’s best basketball player hailing from Serbia. With all due respect to tennis superstar and Grand Slam singles title record holder Novak Djokovic, Jokic is Serbia’s favorite son.

The Denver Nuggets’ big man is a two-time MVP and is coming off leading the team to their first NBA championship, and earning his first Finals MVP. He’s a five-time All-NBA and five-time All-Star. If his career ends today he’s in the Hall of Fame. He’s already the greatest international player ever and the list of people in the NBA who have won two MVPs, a finals MVP and a title is not that long.

Is Serbia the basketball capitol? Not quite. But they are an important country where the game is revered. Depth and talent is still overwhelmingly produced in the United States. But the game is global and the U.S. is no longer guaranteed to have the best player in the world.

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