Discrediting the NBA MVP Award

Kenny Smith tells one of my favorite NBA stories.

It was May 1995 and San Antonio Spurs center David Robinson had just been awarded his first and only regular season MVP.  Later that evening, in Game Two of the Western Conference Finals, the top-seeded Spurs were slated to play the sixth-seeded Houston Rockets, led by the previous year’s MVP Hakeem Olajuwon.

Olajuwon was, by most accounts, the better of the two centers yet Robinson was that year’s consensus MVP, garnering 73 first place votes.  Shaquille O’Neal, only 22 years old at that point, finished second in that year’s voting, Olajuwon finished fifth.

As Smith tells it, Olajuwon told his teammates in the locker room prior to the game, right as Robinson was receiving the trophy, that he was going to remind Robinson who was the better center. 

He did. He dropped 41 on Robinson that night.

In fact, Olajuwon had his way with Robinson for most of that series.  He was the leading scorer in five of the six games, posting 27, 41, 43, 42 and 39 on their way to their second straight NBA Finals, which he would eventually win.

Even the Admiral would admit… that series was a clinic.

This Saturday evening, Milwaukee Bucks’ phenom Giannis Antetokounmpo won his second straight MVP, in the minds of many, deservedly so.

He had the highest ever (as in the history of the NBA) player efficiency rating… whatever that means.

Giannis, however, is out of the bubble right now.  His team underachieved and got bounced by a far better – and far better prepared – Miami Heat team.  The Los Angeles Lakers and LeBron James, who finished second in MVP voting, are still alive and playing, three wins away from an NBA Finals appearance.

Upon hearing that he had finished second in MVP voting (receiving only 16 first place votes to Giannis’ 85), let’s just say that Bron Bron was a little miffed.  While he didn’t pour in 41 like Olajuwon did so many years ago, he proceeded to destroy his opponent for the evening, the Denver Nuggets.  After three quarters of play, the Lakers led by 24 thanks in large part to LeBron controlling the game.

Your last four stat-stuffing NBA MVPs (Giannis twice, James Harden and Russell Westbrook) have not led their teams to a Finals and while you might agree that those players all had the best individual seasons statistically and respectively, you’d be hard-pressed to convince me that in any of those four years they were the best player in the league. 

Prior to that, you have Curry’s back-to-back awards (hard to argue against), Durant’s lone regular season award and LeBron’s back-to-backs (the Miami years).  Moving backwards chronologically, you have Derrick Rose’s MVP season in Chicago and another two for LeBron (the early Cleveland years).

Then you have Kobe, Dirk and Steve Nash’s back-to-back years.

In case you’re not getting my point, let me spell it out for you.  The MVP Award has forever been vague and left up to the voters.  So, I ask you, if the late Kobe Bryant is commonly considered one of the top ten greatest players of all-time, how is it that he only has one regular season MVP award?

Back in the 1990s, when Michael Jordan cast a shadow over the league, everyone knew he was the best player in the NBA. Yet in 1993-94, they gave the award to Charles Barkley.  Jordan would eventually best Barkley’s Suns in that year’s Finals.  In 1996-97, voters would name Karl Malone the league MVP.  Jordan would later go on to beat Malone’s Utah Jazz in the Finals.  In other words, don’t poke the bear.

I’m not suggesting they revise the process in which they award league MVP.  Hell hath no fury like a real MVP scorned.  I’m just suggesting that perhaps we not lend as much credence to the award if its winner can’t get his team to the conference Finals.

Michael Jordan has five regular season MVPs… but six Finals MVPs for each title he won.  Shaquille O’Neal, the most dominant center of his generation, has one regular season MVP… but three Finals MVPs for each title he won in Los Angeles.  Kobe Bryant has one regular season MVP… but two Finals MVPs for the years he brought Los Angeles a title sans Shaq.  Olajuwon has one regular season MVP but two Finals MVPs the years he led his Rockets to victory.  Tim Duncan, one regular season MVP but three Finals MVPs.  I think you’re getting my point.

The NBA MVP is a fine piece of hardware that very few men own.  This is not meant to discredit Giannis’ or anyone else’s accomplishments.  But perhaps the MVP tally is not the best measure of a player’s overall greatness.  And if it fires up the also-rans into out-performing the actual award-winner, then I ask you, who is really more valuable?

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11 Replies to “Discrediting the NBA MVP Award”

  1. Maybe a substantial portion of the media who voted against LeBron simply cannot stand him? In that sense, if true, they were faithful electors representing those who believe an entertainer should vie to please and respect his customers – something that brings tremendous Value to a business. IMHO.

  2. I think you would agree that the word “valuable” is open for interpretation. That said, I have no idea how to interpret “most valuable”. There is a lot of moving parts to that subject. Good Luck next year 🙂

  3. Todd…

    We are all well aware that you stand firmly in the “Just Shut Up And Dribble” camp, which is a shame as he has a voice just like everyone else. You just don’t appreciate how he uses it… apparently like some of the sportswriters who failed to vote for him. Trust me when I tell you. He’s very self-aware. He knows this and could probably give a flying fuck where you stand… if you don’t understand.

    Giannis had an insane year, statistically. But he’s still not a better player than LeBron.

    What those sports writers should realize is, wherever his politics lie, he has been the best (and ultimately the most powerful) player, quite probably since he stepped foot in the league. And the league would not be as entertaining without him in it, which means not as much revenue for the league and not as much revenue for them.

    In other words, they should be kissing his ass and sending him thank you letters for making them in any way relevant.

  4. Nobody said shut up and dribble – that’s actually what President Xi said, in the face of critique of FAR less injustice, and LeBron & Co. obliged. The fact that only a small percentage of the sports media, all of whom know he’s the best basketball player, voted him the most valuable. LeBron’s divisive persona in his workplace is toxic. It’s one of the reasons why a large percentage of fans (and their business) have left the NBA. He’s a toxin to the business. He doesn’t have to shut up, but he likewise needn’t tell his customers to do so.

  5. Todd…

    The “shut up and dribble” line is a direct quote from a “journalist” who told LeBron to do just. This is the same reporter who said Drew Brees had the right to his opinion on these matters, but LeBron did not. It actually inspired a three-part series on the history of the NBA and race relations, airing on Showtime, which I highly recommend.

    The NBA is anything but divided. Quite the opposite, actually. All of them came together, players, coaches and yes, even owners, to send their message across, one which some see as toxic but what they see as right.

    They could care less about ruffling a few feathers. They’d rather make that sacrifice and have their message about what they see as injustice heard loud and clear. And if that means pissing off a few advertisers along the way, they’re okay with that as well.

  6. That has very little to do with my initial comment which was that the reason 80% of the media experts entitled to vote cast their MVP ballots against LeBron, notwithstanding near universal opinion that he’s the best player, was possibly because so many people simply cannot stand him. Not because he doesn’t shut up and dribble. Not because a reporter said something. Not because he pissed off a few advertisers. I simply suggested that, possibly, many folks can’t stand him because he doesn’t treat all of his customers with respect. He disenfranchises a substantial portion of the league’s customers with his divisive hatred, and doesn’t allow those with whom he disagrees to just enjoy watching basketball.

    As for unity in the NBA- you must realize that those who disagree with LeBron don’t dare speak up. As for this incredible sacrifice you suggest, I missed that when China demanded that the NBA stop criticizing the arrest and forceable “re-education” of its own citizens in concentration camps — in response to which LeBron decided to, as a reporter once said, shut up and dribble.

  7. Todd…

    I think you and I see a different LeBron.

    Athletes like OJ Simpson, Michael Jordan and Tiger Woods were criticized for ages for not speaking up about the rights of the black man in America. (Okay, so OJ was later criticized for something else but you get my point). LeBron is just doing what he thinks is right and clearly these days, he’s getting criticized for it as well, so somewhere in the middle lies the path of acceptance.

    The LeBron I see is a guy who gets visibly choked up when he’s asked on the spot about a young black girl getting shot in her own home. As a father of black children, he’s understandably upset at the distinct possibility of that happening to his own kids with nothing he can do about it. I see that as genuine, not contrived or bossy. Don’t forget, these guys are fathers too, not just basketball players.

    And I guess I’m just not seeing this divided NBA you talk about. It seems to me that they’re pretty united in their message. I don’t know whether LeBron has an open door policy when it comes to listening to those also in the league. But seniority has its privileges and if he’s the one who made the league what it is today, for better or for worse, then that’s what he’s earned for the seventeen years he’s put in. Let us not forget that Michael Jordan always was, and still is, a dick.

    I know people are upset about LBJ, the league and its message. I hear it when I poll strangers. But they’ll come around. We’re Americans. We have very short memories.

    That plus these Finals feature LeBron against his former team and GM against Pat Riley and his former team and star player. What more could you ask for, I mean, other than LeBron not being in it at all?

  8. I’m glad these dopes stiffed LeBron on the MVP and AD on the DPOYbecause it only served as additional fuel for the championship run. As a fan, I care far more about rings than individual accolades.

    Case in point, both Kobe and Shaq only won one regular season MVP award.

  9. Bleed…

    I’ve miss ya, brother!

    Congrats on yet another title. I’d say the boys probably have at least one more in ’em. A little tinkering here and there and this team should be just fine.

    It was good to see LeBron relish in the hate and use it to motivate himself and his team.

    They’re everywhere these days and right now, their mouths are full of crow.

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