Gilgeous-Alexander 'humbled' by impressive year he's having for Canada and Thunder

TORONTO — Even as Shai Gilgeous-Alexander was being recognized as Canada's best athlete, he stayed humble.

The Oklahoma City Thunder guard officially received the Northern Star Award as Canada's top athlete of 2023 on Friday morning, hours before facing the Toronto Raptors. Gilgeous-Alexander is a contender to win the NBA's most valuable player award this season as the Western Conference-leading Thunder close in on a playoff berth and he'll represent Canada at this summer's Paris Olympics.

"It’s been a blessing. A lot of people put in work and do a lot of the right things but aren’t blessed with the opportunities that I’ve been blessed with," said Gilgeous-Alexander about his impressive year. "A little bit of it is humbling just to know that everything I’ve done has worked out and paid off. There’s a little bit of luck that’s gone into it.

"It's everything a kid could ask for."

The Hamilton native was instrumental in Canada's bronze-medal performance at the FIBA men's World Cup in September and is part of the core of 14 players who have committed to play at the Summer Olympics.

He's carried that momentum into the NBA season, averaging 30.9 points, 6.4 assists, and 5.6 rebounds per game for Oklahoma City (48-20). He's shooting an astonishing 54.4 per cent on his field-goal attempts — making him the most accurate guard in the NBA — and his two steals per game are the most in the league.

"It’s exciting for me because I want to see how much more work I can put in and see how much more I can accomplish," said Gilgeous-Alexander.

He's only the second NBA player to win the Northern Star Award after Phoenix Suns guard Steve Nash of Victoria did it in 2005. The honour is voted on by a panel of sports media from across Canada including the Toronto Star, The Canadian Press, FAN590, The Globe and Mail, CBC, Rogers Sportsnet, CTV/TSN, La Presse and Postmedia.

Although he won the award Dec. 11, he was not able to receive the trophy in person until Friday.

"It’s amazing. It’s hard to put into words, just growing up, seeing guys like Steve Nash get it, and seeing how far I’ve come," said Gilgeous-Alexander after Toronto Star sports editor Dave Washburn presented him with the trophy. "Seeing the award and seeing Steve Nash accomplish things in the NBA seemed so far away as a kid.

"It almost seemed like it wasn’t possible, but to be here and be able to accomplish some of the things that he’s been able to accomplish is special."

Montreal's Luguentz Dort, who is Gilgeous-Alexander's teammate on the Thunder and Canada's Olympic team, said it was great to see his friend succeed.

"It's a big award here in Canada, with all the Canadian athletes who have won it," said Dort. "To see my teammate, one of my brothers, achieve that awareness, I'm really happy."

Thunder head coach Mark Daigneault said it was a credit to the effort Gilgeous-Alexander puts in on and off the court.

"These guys work so hard, they sacrifice so much," said Daigneault. "They're all unicorns for even being in the NBA, all of them, not jut Shai although he's obviously a great player.

"Every single player that makes it to the NBA has an amazing story and there's so much work that goes behind that, and any time that gets recognized for any individual player (...) I couldn't be happier for them just because you see how hard they work."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 22, 2024.

John Chidley-Hill, The Canadian Press