Unlike his hairline, LeBron James will hang on to his NBA MVP crown for the next several years without much trouble. The only question is whether or not that title will be official. With LeBron dominating as much as he does night in and night out, the onus will be on the voters to formally select him as MVP in the coming years.
One would think such a task would be a “slam dunk” (no pun intended), but when looking at the history of MVP voting, LeBron is all but assured to be screwed out of at least a trophy or two by the voters. We'll get into the specific cases a bit later, but for now, just know that the NBA has a nasty habit of not giving the MVP to the most deserving candidate.
So what should the league do? Conventional wisdom says nothing; they must just go through the motions and hope the voters get it right by choosing the best player (LeBron).
But the smart thing would be to think outside the box and concede the MVP Award to LeBron James for the next three years starting now. The general public will label him as the MVP no matter what the voters do, and it will spare NBA fans from having to hear analysts discuss which players deserve the award over him.
At first glance this could seem to hurt the credibility of the league by taking competition out of an award race. But isn’t the point of the award to determine the league’s best player? As mentioned above, the NBA MVP selection process may not be as effective at doing that as one might think.
With the NBA being the most predictable league among the four major sports, MVP candidates are often determined before the season. This means voters generally know who the best player is going to be right off the bat. Even still, that player sometimes gets the short end of the stick.
The MVP voters often have hidden agendas that inhibit them from selecting the player most deserving of their vote. They get caught up in giving out the award to “career achievers” and guys who “should have won before but didn’t”.
The most recent example of this was the 2008 MVP voting. Kevin Garnett changed the entire culture of the Celtics organization and led them to 66 wins, Chris Paul almost led New Orleans to the No. 1 seed in the Western Conference by himself and LeBron was in the midst of another great statistical season. Yet it was Kobe Bryant who won the MVP award.
This isn't to say that Kobe didn't deserve it, but the process that gave it to him was a bit disingenuous. Plenty of voters wanted to give it to him simply because he was an all-time great who'd never won one. While that may be their own fault (Steve Nash's '06 trophy is rightfully Kobe's), that doesn't give them the ethical right to vote against the rightful recipient.
Personal biases towards players come into play as well. This was evident this past season, where LeBron James fell one vote shy of a unanimous MVP selection. The lone non-vote can be attributed to Boston Globe Writer Gary Washburn, who elected to go with Carmelo Anthony as his choice.
As funny as LeBron being denied a unanimous selection was, it was clearly the wrong choice. LeBron led his team to 27 straight wins in historic fashion, all while averaging 26 points, 8 rebounds, and 8 assists per game. If that does not scream “Unanimous MVP” to voters, then nothing does.
But plenty of writers dislike LeBron. There's still a lot of post-Decision bitterness, and robbing him of history remains a petty yet simple slight at the league's best player. That's why Derrick Rose won the 2011 MVP award.
LeBron should be awarded his MVPs in advance to avoid an inevitable scenario where another player wins even when LeBron is most deserving. Forget who the best player is, many voters won’t want to see a guy win 6 out of 7 or 7 out of 8 MVPs. Their reasoning: "He’s won enough already;" "It’s someone else’s turn;" or "We’re tired of voting for him."
The best example of a player suffering from his own success happens to involve the greatest basketball player of all time: Michael Jordan.
This took place over the course of the 1995-96 to 1997-98 seasons. Jordan was selected as MVP in the 1995-96 season with splits of over 30 points, 7 rebounds, and 4 assists per game, as well as in the 1997-98 season with splits of 29, 5, and 4. The question is, what changed the season in between?
The answer is effectively nothing. The Bulls still were ridiculously good and Jordan was no-questions-asked the best player in the league, averaging 30, 6, and 4 in his 1996-97 campaign. Why then, did he not win the MVP for a second straight year? He had the exact same stat line and it was obvious he was the most deserving.
The simple explanation is voters wanted to see a “fresh face” accept the trophy. Karl Malone, the winner, had a great year, putting up 27 points and 10 rebounds a night, but he did not deserve to unseat Jordan as MVP. Jordan’s stats didn’t dip from the year before, and they didn’t dip the year after.
There is no logical reason why Jordan shouldn’t have won the MVP during that middle season. He put up the same MVP caliber numbers but lost out to someone with inferior ones. Semantics caused Jordan to miss out on that MVP, not his play.
The same could be argued for the 1989 and 1993 awards. In each year we knew Jordan was the best player. However, in '89 he was coming off of an MVP season and both Magic Johnson and Charles Barkley had viable cases. Barkley did again in '93, stealing the award from Jordan. Nobody questioned Jordan's status as the league's best player, they just saw an opportunity to mix it up and they took it.
The point of all this is simple: let’s stop the shenanigans. Let’s stop the trying to say that Carmelo or Chris Paul has a case for MVP. The fact is that, barring injury, LeBron will be the most dominant player for the foreseeable future without much opposition. He is just entering his prime and is a much more complete player than he was even two years ago.
The Heat are going to need him to account for even more production in the coming years. Dwyane Wade’s play is deteriorating, and the corpse formerly known as Chris Bosh is inconsistent at best. This makes it fully conceivable that LeBron’s stat line may significantly jump from the 27 points, 7 rebounds, and 7 assists we saw from him last year.
Like him or hate him, LeBron’s dominance is here to stay. Let’s just formally acknowledge his greatness and stop just going through the motions. LeBron James will be regarded as the consensus MVP by the public for the next three or four seasons no matter what. Whether or not he is officially awarded the trophy, on the other hand, is left up to a suspect voting process.
That's why the NBA should step in and do what’s right. Give LeBron the MVP until the 2015-16 season, and don’t let the voters get in the way of history. Let analysts and talk shows discuss stuff that really matters. Because even though I’d love to hear Jalen Rose talk about how Stephen Curry’s PER puts him in the MVP conversation, rational fans know LeBron James is where the MVP discussion begins and ends for the time being. David Stern just needs to make it official.
By: Matt Valianti