Shai Gilgeous-Alexander Opens Up on 2012 Thunder Comparisons, Says He Wants NBA MVP

We sat down with Shai Gilgeous-Alexander to discuss comparing this OKC core to the 2012 core, the free throw narratives, playing Team USA in the Olympics, and if he's this generation's Allen Iverson in terms of fashion.

Basketball player in Thunder jersey gestures on court with focus on him
Joshua Gateley / Getty Images
Basketball player in Thunder jersey gestures on court with focus on him

Shai Gilgeous-Alexander's days of flying under the radar or being one of the most underrated talents in the NBA are long gone. He has arrived and has quickly asserted himself as the one of the best players in the association the past two seasons. The MVP chase seems to be a two-man race at this point between Gilgeous-Alexander and two-time league MVP Nikola Jokic. Shai is the anchor of one of the best stories in the NBA right now in the Oklahoma City Thunder. No one expected this young team to jump from a play-in team to No. 1 in the highly-competitve Western Conference.

"We don't care about what the media has to say about us... before the season, we were supposed to be a play-in team," Gilgeous-Alexander says. "We didn't care what people were saying about us and now we're top of the west."

OKC is no stranger to having MVPs on its roster in its short history as a franchise. Shai is looking to become OKC's third league MVP following the footsteps of Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant. With Shai's on the court success comes more notorierty and fame. He recently starred in a hilarious AT&T commercial with his teammate Chet Holmgren to promote the March Madness "Connect to the Madness" campaign.

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Shai sat down with Complex to discuss the new commercial, the MVP race, comparing this OKC core to the 2012 core, playing Team USA in the Olympics, and more.

(This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.)

Let's talk about this AT&T partnership first. How did this partnership come about?
My marketing team brought it to me, brought it to the table. and we just both thought it would be a great opportunity to kind of work together. I could express my personality and my interests on and off the court with the world and share it with AT&T.

Two men walking down stairs, one looking aside, another holding a phone. They wear stylish casual jackets

You did show your personality a lot here even with singing. Were you comfortable with that? I don't think fans have seen your personality beyond Instagram and postgame interviews. How important was it to showcase yourself beyond basketball?
Yeah, of course, I was comfortable with it. I'm a goofy fun, laid back kind of guy. I love having fun and doing silly things. Obviously, I'm a terrible singer but like I said, I just wanted to show the world that side of me was fun for sure.

This AT&T commercial is focused on March Madness. You went to Kentucky and there's yet another star guard there coming to wreak havoc in the league. What are your thoughts on Rob Dillingham?
I definitely caught a couple of their games. Yeah, Rob is a pretty electric basketball player. He's fun to watch but they have a couple of guys that are for sure being a big least next year. Cal obviously has done a great job again, just preparing young kids for the NBA and the next level. He is the best in the business at it for sure.

A basketball player in a Kentucky uniform makes a jump shot during a game

You're in the MVP conversation and that's new for you. Obviously you want to win as many games as possible, but how important would it be for you to be the NBA MVP?
Yeah. It would be a dream come true. It's something that you dream about as a kid. You shoot hoops in your backyard and imagine that you're MVP to the crowds, chanting your name. It's surreal to even just be in the conversation. I would obviously be ecstatic and love to win the award. It's something that I definitely want.

OKC has had their share of MVPs in the past. I actually asked this next question to Chet last year, around the same time before he actually played a game. I asked him if this OKC young core can be better than the KD-Russ-Harden core?
Yeah. Those guys obviously have done amazing things for the game. Three of them won MVPs on their own teams but we don't even compare ourselves and worry about them. Like we are focused on what we do day in and day out and for us the most important thing is gonna be a championship.

Two basketball players in action during a game, with one preparing to dribble past the other. Crowd visible in the background

We know Oklahoma City has never won one before so to do that for the organization and for the city would be special and we leave our blueprint there forever for sure.

You guys have title aspirations but many will say this year, you're too young to do it. What are your thoughts on all those narratives that will probably come out soon if not already?
Me personally, I know we don't care about what the media has to say about us or what people think about us. Before the season, we were supposed to be a play-in team. We didn't care what people were saying about us and now we're top of the west. So for us, it's just focusing on winning games at the end of the day and being the best basketball players that we can be individually and as a collective.

I saw recently Tracy McGrady had you in the top five of best players in the NBA right now. Do you feel like you've already done enough to earn that or do you feel like that's too soon?
I feel like I do have a lot to prove postseason-wise for sure. That's where the biggest stars and the best players show up. I obviously haven't been there in the past couple of years and I can't wait for that opportunity so I definitely think there's more to prove.

Switching to this summer for the Olympics, Team USA is stacking the deck to try to create another Dream Team. You guys beat them last World Cup. Are you kinda worried about their reinforcements?
No, I don't worry at all. At the end of the day, they're basketball players. Now, they may be some of the best in the world but our team has some of the best in the world as well and we don't fear any of them. We play them all year. They're the same basketball players. They sweat and bleed just like us and the ball's gonna tip and at the end of the night and you're gonna find out who's a better team.

It's whether you play USA or you play Lithuania, whether you play Spain, that's what it comes down to. So for us, there's no difference.

Staying on the topic of Canadian hoops, do you feel like you can be the best Canadian to ever play the game of basketball when it's all said and done?
To answer your question, yes but I always felt like this is what I've been taught. Like I can achieve anything I put my mind to and anything I work for. I've made it to the NBA and made it this far in achieving this amount of things. And if you asked everyone in my life and everyone that I've been around 10 years ago if I could achieve it, they'd say I was crazy. So I try not to put a cap on what I can do and a limit on what I can do and I try to reach for the stars.

Moving to style, you have become a fashion icon in the NBA. Do you feel like you're the Allen Iverson of this generation in terms of fashion?
I feel like we're so different in our styles but I definitely think like the influence and the "do it your own way" attitude is a good comparison. Now he's obviously laid the groundwork with the whole taking the fines and dressing how he wanted to dress but I think I'm running in my own lane and trying to do it my way but he definitely is a pioneer to it all for sure.

Person in a black leather jacket and pants walks past bystanders, possibly a sports figure arriving at an event

There's a free throw narrative placed on you by NBA fans, similar to what James Harden went through in Houston where people say your best skill is getting to the line. When you see silly commentary like that, what's your initial reaction?
I don't really care about any of that narrative stuff. I've honestly never heard that. I I'm not on like Twitter and Instagram looking for like what people say about me, you know what I mean? Or for like their opinions on my game.

I just post what I wanna post and get off. But for me personally, I play the game how I want to play the game. At the end of the day, I try to use my strength to help my team win and that's all what it comes down to. So how I get to it, I don't really care.

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