Last year was one of the most competitive NBA MVP races I can remember. Eventually, Kobe Bryant received both the official NBA honor and my unofficial vote (but not before some serious thought on the issue.)
After the success of last year’s methodology, I tried the same thing again this year. I narrowed the pool of MVP candidates to 10, and then asked myself 10 questions. For each question, I rated the candidates. The number one answer received 10 points for that question, second place received nine points and so on.
After tallying the total points for all 10 questions, last year’s winner, Kobe Bryant fell just one point shy of his 2008 mark, but Kobe’s 78 points was only good enough for second in 2009. The winner, scoring an astounding 87 (out of a possible 100) points was LeBron James.
Honestly, this exercise in justifying the MVP may be rendered unnecessary for the foreseeable future. Despite great seasons from Dwight Howard, Dwayne Wade and Bryant, no one stacks up to James. And, at 24 years old, it’s scary but logical to believe King James is only going to get better.
Statistics don’t quite do James justice. Neither do superlatives. The best way to appreciate his game is to watch him night in and night out. From the moment he entered the league, there was no doubt that he was physically gifted. But a summer that included a gold medal run with Kobe Bryant and Team USA in China, LeBron entered this season with a new sense of purpose, drive and determination.
Suddenly his will to win met—if not surpassed—his unbelievable array of physical gifts. He’s not perfect. He could still improve his free throw shooting (though he did go from 71 to 78 percent this year). He could still develop a go-to move and a counter move in the post. But this is not the time to nitpick greatness.
LeBron is a singular talent unlike anything the NBA has ever seen before. That’s right. Ever. You can compare him to Magic or Michael or even Kobe. But truth be told, LeBron James is the prototype.
At 6-feet, 8-inches tall and 250 pounds, LeBron is built like a professional wrestler. Streaking down the court to finish a fast break or pin a helpless opponent off the backboard, he runs and jumps like an Olympic track star. And he does it all with the passing skills and decision making ability of a Hall of Fame quarterback. Of course, he also manages to synthesize all of these talents together into something that looks like basketball—only a brand we’d never dream of playing.
On any given night, LeBron may put up a triple double. On any given play, he may put a would-be shot blocker on a poster. And at any given moment, he can make a crowd of thousands say, “Wow!”
Of course LeBron will win the MVP for what he does on the court, but he’s just as valuable everywhere else. The rapport he has with his teammates is palpable. The connection he has with the home fans in Cleveland is tangible—just look at their home record. His personality is personable, his conversations engaging, his brand bordering on Jordan.
The only thing left for LeBron this season is an NBA championship. That’s the missing piece. His Cavaliers will enter the playoffs as the number one overall seed, which means that they, and more specifically he, will be labeled the favorites by many to defeat the defending champion Celtics and likely Western Conference Champion Lakers in the Finals.
In the last 20 years, only four players have won the NBA MVP and NBA championship in the same season (Michael Jordan ’91, ’92, ’96, ’98; Hakeen Olajuwon ’94; Shaquille O’Neal ’00; Tim Duncan ’03).
LeBron isn’t worried about replicating history. He’s determined to make it. But if he’s ever going to surpass Michael Jordan as the public’s consensus greatest player of all-time, it’s going to take more than winning an MVP award (Jordan has five of those). It’s going to take NBA Finals MVP awards (Jordan has six). Still, LeBron’s 2008-09 season was a thing of beauty for fans of basketball. And for that, he deserves recognition as this year’s MVP.