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Gilgeous-Alexander shows to be good for business, future face of league

Shai Gilgegous-Alexander Shai Gilgeous-Alexander - The Canadian Press

Shai Gilgeous-Alexander’s impact on the court extends beyond just praise from his basketball peers.

The Oklahoma City Thunder superstar guard from Hamilton, Ont. has blossomed into an MVP candidate this season. He made his first career start in the NBA All-Star game in his second ever appearance this past weekend.

“Shai is incredible. He is just an incredible talent, he is fun to watch,” NBA deputy commissioner Mark Tatum said on a Zoom conference call last week. “An MVP candidate, he’s an all-star and I think he has served as an inspiration to, not just Canadian players, but players from all over the world.

“So I will tell you, it also translates to our business where our viewership in Canada is up double digits, 11 per cent, our NBA Instagram account has now grown by some 21 per cent year over year.

“So our audience is growing rapidly, as a matter of fact, in Canada as a result of Shai and the 20-plus other Canadian players who are in our league.”

The 25-year-old Gilgeous-Alexander has followed up last year's breakout season, in which he finished fourth in scoring (31.4), earned his first career all-star nod, and cracked the All-NBA first team, with an even better campaign this season.

Moreover, the Thunder are winning games this year. Oklahoma City narrowly missed the playoffs last season by falling out of the play-in tournament. The upstart Thunder (37-17) currently sit second in the Western Conference and third in the overall NBA standings.

Gilgeous-Alexander is fuelling the offence, averaging 31.1 points per game, second only to Dallas Mavericks star Luka Doncic among league scoring leaders.

Future Hall of Famers Stephen Curry of the Golden State Warriors and LeBron James of the Los Angeles Lakers both recognize the Canadian as a future face of the league once they've retired.

“I would say Shai, Ant Man (Anthony Edwards). I feel like those are two of the guys that could continue the torch after I’m done, after Steph (Curry), KD (Kevin Durant) — the guys that have just been setting the standard for so many years,” James told TNT’s Inside the NBA crew, in mentioning along with Dallas’ Luka Doncic, who he looked forward to spending time with on the West team.

Curry, meanwhile, believes Gilgeous-Alexander's endorsement game is almost as impressive as his skills on the court.

Gilgeous-Alexander boasts a shoe deal with Converse and serves as a global brand ambassador for Canada Goose, as well as for Kim Kardashian’s SKIMS brand.

“There’s a lot of guys to pick from in this group of 24 that are here,” Curry told reporters at all-star weekend. “You see Luka, Ant (Anthony Edwards), Shai, guys that are really coming into their prime.

“Highly decorated already, all-stars, all-NBA guys but have perspective .. of what that means within all the on-court, off-court opportunities and the doors that basketball opens in that respect. You got a lot of talent to choose from in that respect.

“The league is in pretty good hands when it comes to young talent.”

Despite all the personal praise, Gilgeous-Alexander has long been one to mention his team first and not get caught up in outside hype.

“I’ve learned through experience and obviously as a young kid, it’s easier to get caught up in it, just going back to high school and rankings and things like that,” said Gilgeous-Alexander during the all-star weekend about dealing with heightened expectations. “I’ve found so much success from, just not blocking it out, but not letting it faze me or control me.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 20, 2024.