Irresponsible sports media gives new meaning to term “MVP race”

America has become so predictable.  So has its media.

As soon as it became evident that Joel Embiid, a Black male, would win his first MVP award, a handful of pundits brought up the race card.  I’m not entirely sure why, nor do I care to mention these pundits by name as a) I don’t pay credence to who said it b) why they’d even care to say it and c) why high-profile sports media outlets continue to run such drivel.

It’s the sad, sad case of modern sports journalism circling the drain.

Three basketball players were in the running for this year’s MVP award: Embiid, who had never won it before; Nikola Jokic, who had won it the last two seasons; and Giannis Antetokounmpo, who won it the two before that.

My theory on who is awarded MVP, or whether Embiid was deserving of this year’s award, has nothing to do with race but rather how the league has historically voted for its most valuable player. 

Three men in the history of the league have won the award three straight years:  Bill Russell, ’61, ’62, ’63; Wilt Chamberlain ’66, ’67, ’68 and Larry Bird ’84, ’85, ’86.  That’s it.  It is an extremely exclusive club, one that doesn’t even include Kareem Abdul Jabbar, Michael Jordan or LeBron James, which is ridiculous considering those men all had dominant stretches that lasted more than three seasons.

The NBA, and those who vote for the award, hold on to that “three straight MVP” thing like Major League Baseball held on to its 61 home run title, unwilling to part with it despite it being broken multiple times.

LeBron James won four MVP awards in five years.  His back-to-back MVPs bookended Derrick Rose’s lone MVP in 2010-11.  I can’t help but wonder how differently we’d view LeBron had they given him the award that year.  (Note: he finished third in the voting.)  Michael Jordan saw MVP awards given to both Charles Barkley and Karl Malone in years he beat their teams in the Finals.  Steve Nash’s best season came the season after he’d won back-to-back MVPs.  The definition of MVP has always been vague and up for debate but if you basically just gave the award to the best player in the game, it’s hard to argue that several players shouldn’t have more than they already do.

Which brings us back to Embiid and the far too tired playing of the race card.

You can make valid arguments that all three, i.e., Embiid, Giannis, Jokic, were viable MVP candidates.  They were.  Like Nash in 2007, a season in which he had more assists and shot more efficiently than the previous two seasons he won the award, Jokic also had a more statistically impressive season than his last two outings, in which he also won MVP.  But as with Nash in 2007, LeBron in 2011 and several other cases in league history, I contend that voters were leery of putting Jokic in the rarified air of Russell, Wilt, and Bird at only 28 years of age.  Or in Mark Jackson’s case, a voter and former player who didn’t even list Jokic in his top five, they don’t watch basketball at all.

It’s not all that bothersome really.  It’s just how the league has gone about its business and anyone paying attention understands that’s how it goes.  They like to protect certain aspects of the game they hold dear.  The complexion of a man’s skin has nothing to do with it.

Media even brought race into the post-season.  And why wouldn’t they?  It’s not like they have amazing games to talk about.  In Game Four of the Suns-Nuggets series, Phoenix forward Josh Okogie dove into the stands for a loose ball.  Of all people, the ball ended up in the hands of new Suns owner Mat Ishbia.  Two-time MVP Nikola Jokic went to retrieve the ball, which was held on to by the Suns owner.  A small scuffle ensued with Jokic giving the owner a forearm landing him back in his seat.  Jokic was issued a technical foul and the game went on but not without everyone wondering whether Jokic would be suspended for Game Five.

In a 2007 Western Conference Finals game between the Phoenix Suns and San Antonio Spurs, Robert Horry hip-checked the much smaller Steve Nash into the scorer’s table.  Nash’s teammate Amare Stoudemire left the bench to defend his teammate.  A scuffle ensued and Stoudemire was suspended for a pivotal Game Five.  His absence swayed the series in San Antonio’s favor.  The Spurs would go on to win that series and the Finals.  It was the Suns’ best chance to win a title.  The NBA rule to suspend players for leaving the bench to join an altercation came on the heels of the Malice at the Palace, a now infamous brouhaha which gave fans even more reason to hate the NBA.

Jokic pushing the Suns owner was a far cry from that.  As a result, and one can only guess based on his record of good behavior, Jokic was not suspended but only fined.  The league was in a no-win situation.  Either explain why they suspended Jokic or leave matters be.  Were it another player with a spottier record, it’s far more likely that a suspension would have been levied but I think it’s safe to say that Jokic was not given a pass simply because of the color of his skin. 

No one is denying that racism doesn’t exist or that we’re not divided by our differences, however, to bring these issues up when there is no need is irresponsible journalism with the hopes of drawing readers and potentially dividing us further.  I want website traffic as much as the next person but I’m not about to write garbage with the hopes of attracting it.  If America really wants to concern itself with pressing matters, it might want to look at why the best athletes in every professional sport aside from the NFL are born outside our borders.  And, in the case of Mark Jackson and a few others, the league might want to take a closer look at who votes for MVP.

Until then, here’s hoping that our never-ending thirst for attention doesn’t continue to get outweighed by common sense.

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4 Replies to “Irresponsible sports media gives new meaning to term “MVP race””

  1. You spelled embiid and antetokounmpo correctly, but not niKola, you racist! [In the poll] Haha jk m8, good article. I do however think it’s truly valid to question whether mark Jackson’s leaving jokic off the ballet is due to his ineptitude or jokic’ skin color. I wish it wasn’t this way, but gun to my head n I have to bet one way or the other, I’d put my money on option B. Skin color….there u go, I’m no better than the media…..better question, when is jokic in the same convo as Bill Wilt n Bird? How many rings does it take for an old head to accept jokic? As far as value in terms of winning games that matter, I think he’s already in that rarified air

  2. JC…

    The k is silent.

    Let’s do this. Let’s play some hypothetical, which I hate, but let’s try it anyway.

    Let’s say that Ja Morant had taken the league by storm, which he kind of has.

    Let’s say he rattles of two MVP awards (not entirely out of the realm of possibility as he’s been a candidate on and off for the last two seasons).

    Then he has his best season yet and rattles off a third. Then he goes on Instagram and poses with a gun (for the second time).

    Then the league looks like shit for backing a guy with a gun problem.

    That’s not to say this would ever happen with Jokic. It appears he has his head screwed on tighter than Morant.

    And perhaps this is a bad example. It’s just come up considering the Morant news that came out this morning.

    I’m not sure why the league (and I’ll include the NFL and MLB) holds on to these things so dearly. I guess it’s because they’re what differentiate the league from all others. It’s what makes them unique.

    Here’s a trivia question for you. Only one player in Major League Baseball history has won an MVP three straight years. It was actually FOUR straight years.

    If you can guess who that was, maybe that in a way answers why sports leagues are even in the slightest bit leery about awarding such an honor to a player, even though it’s deserved.

  3. “No one is denying that racism doesn’t exist or that we’re not divided by our differences”
    Whether we like it or not racism and prejudice exist. Biases are formed and ingrained. Human beings are far from a perfect species. Until we can develope a better process the MVP award will remain a glorified participation trophy.

  4. Deac…

    After this year and especially this post-season, seeing Embiid fail while Jokic flourishes, I think all voters will take a long hard look at who the best player is next year and give the award to him.

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