If it weren't for the late John McCain, Lauri Markkanen's career path may have taken a different route.
The 21-year-old rising Bulls star went on Twitter on Sunday morning to thank McCain, who passed away from brain cancer on Saturday, for helping him get a visa to play basketball in the United States.
Here's what Markkanen had to say:
A big Arizona Wildcats fan, McCain offered his assistance to Markkanen prior to the 2016-17 college basketball season.
“There was some delay in getting him a visa,” McCain told ABC News’ Rick Klein and ESPN’s Andy Katz in March 2017. “Obviously he had to have a student visa and there was a question about whether he was a student or not in Finland. I’d like to tell you it was the hardest struggle I ever had. Actually, we just kind of weighed in and said, ‘hey, how about expediting this’. It was not as big a deal as I would like it to be.”
The rest is history.
Markkanen would go on to have a stellar year with Arizona, leading the Wildcats to a Sweet 16 in the NCAA Tournament. He would declare for the NBA Draft after the season, getting selected by the Bulls with the seventh overall pick.
Thank you, John McCain.
Last week, budding Bulls star Lauri Markkanen was ranked 84th among the Top 100 NBA players by Sports Illustrated.
This week, ESPN released their own Top 100 NBA players list and they favored Markkanen a bit more, slotting him in at 66.
"After a strong rookie season highlighted by 145 made 3s, Markkanen should take another jump in offensive efficiency with more weapons at Fred Hoiberg's disposal," ESPN's Mike Schmitz wrote.
ESPN's poll was determined by a vote amongst an expert panel, while Sports Illustrated's version of the list aimed to combine the subjective with some objective data.
In the blurb accompanying the ranking, ESPN was notably more optimistic about Markkanen heading into the season. Schmitz noted the addition of "a rebounding, shot-blocking center like Wendell Carter Jr. also lets the Finnish 7-footer focus more on his strengths."
Both Sports Illustrated and ESPN seemed concerned about Markkanen's ability to be the playmaker amidst a cast of players -- including Zach LaVine and Jabari Parker -- all looking to score.
Pundits, however, appear ready to anoint Markkanen as the focal point of the Bulls offense as the team's best player. Markkanen is the only Bulls player to appear in both lists, though ESPN hasn't released 1-50 yet.
Sports Illustrated ranked former Bulls star Jimmy Butler at No. 10 and LaVine was added to their self-imposed snubs list. LaVine and Markkanen, along with Kris Dunn, were traded to the Bulls by the Timberwolves in exchange for Butler the night of the 2017 NBA Draft.
No, he isn’t Wilt Chamberlain, who accomplished the feat an absurd 118 times. But Jordan’s 31 50-point games still rank second all-time in NBA history, and it doesn’t look like anyone is catching him anytime soon (LeBron, Steph Curry, Kevin Durant and James Harden have a COMBINED 30 such games).
Jordan’s averages in his 50-point games? 54.1 points on 60.9 percent shooting, 7.6 rebounds and 4.5 assists. The Bulls went 22-8 in those games, and the Wizards (sorry for the reminder) went 1-0. Jordan also had eight playoff games of 50 or more points, including his 63-point outing against the 1986 Celtics. The Bulls went 6-2 in the postseason when Jordan topped 50 points.
The most incredible feat in all this might be that Jordan had more career games of scoring 50 or more points (31) than he had games of scoring 11 or fewer points (26). That’s correct: In 1,072 games, Jordan was more likely to score 50 on an opponent than be held to 11 or fewer points, from age 21 to 39.
Previous Countdown to Opening Night posts:
38. Bobby Portis' career-high in points
37. Michael Jordan's career-best PPG in 1987
36. Lauri Markkanen's 3-point FG% as a rookie
35. Michael Jordan's PPG in 1988, his first MVP season
34. Wendell Carter
33. Scottie Pippen
32. Kris Dunn