For the past decade-plus, LeBron James has been universally regarded as the best basketball player in the world. There is no exact way to honor said claim, but the MVP award is the closest thing in place.
James is a four-time winner of the award, tied with Wilt Chamberlain for the third-most MVPs all time. But he hasn’t won the award since 2013, due to multiple reasons, mostly all non basketball related. According to his Lakers coaches and teammates, who openly campaigned for James to win the award after the Lakers’ 116-105 win over the Charlotte Hornets on Thursday night, the drought is ridiculous.
“Bron should have been the MVP at least eight, nine, 10 times,” teammate Kyle Kuzma said. “Everybody knows that.”
“It’s a mistake on the voters’ part to go season after season without voting the best player in the league MVP,” Lakers coach Frank Vogel said. “You know what I mean? That’s the simplest way to put it. There’s been other players that have been deserving, but he’s been the best player in the league for as long as I can remember. Maybe since his second, third year in the league.
“It’s just one of those things that’s unfortunate. It’s not right. And he should get it this year. He’s doing it every night, and no one is as deserving.”
The thing about the MVP award is that there is no set in stone criteria to win the award. The formula changes from season to season. Some years, it’s the best player on the best team. Other years, it’s the advanced metrics darling. In a few cases, it’s been the best narrative. And, in the strongest MVP seasons, it’s been a combination of all three.
Therefore, it’s difficult, in retrospect, to pinpoint which MVPs James should have won between 2013-14 and now.
A few seasons he does not have a case for the award, but it is only when a player had a historic season. Steph Curry at the peak of his powers in 2016. Westbrook’s triple double season. Giannis Antetokounmpo’s historic advanced metrics season two years ago.
Where he’s often lost is to opponents with better records or narratives. Or as Kuzma calls it, politics.
It seems like a logical fallacy to justify one player as the MVP — even if their team won more games or they put up better numbers — when there’s another player in James that most, if not all, consider the game’s best. There’s a disconnect in reasoning there.
That is more so what his teammates and Vogel were getting at, and why they believe he should be the current front-runner.
“Somebody said it last year or the year before, you could give him the MVP every year if you really wanted to,” Alex Caruso said. “He’s just that good. He really is so valuable. That’s why you see years past, when he’s on the court, whatever the net rating of the team is really, really good, and then sometimes when he goes off it’s not as good, it’s because he’s that good of a player. …
“His greatness I can only … I can say this, that or whatever, but y’all witness it, everybody witnesses it night in night out, year after year, whatever season this is for him, 17, 18, 30, whatever. He goes out there and does it every night, it’s pretty remarkable.”
Upon being relayed some of his teammates’ comments and sentiments, James agreed that he should have won more MVP awards throughout his career, while also noting that feeling snubbed is a common refrain from all-time great players.
“I should have more than four, I believe,” James said. “But I don’t sit around thinking about it or crying about it, or whatever the case may be. I just try to come in the next season and be the MVP and be talked about it again. I bet a lot of the greatest that played this game feel like they should have more as well, if you ask any one of those guys.
“So this is another opportunity for me to able to be recognized as the best player for that particular season, and this season. So, hopefully, I can continue to just play great basketball and see what happens at the end.”
James’ approach to the topic has evolved over the years. In Cleveland he was dismissive about being snubbed for the award. In Miami he won two so he wasn’t concerned with the conversation. But after the 7 year drought of getting that recognition, it has crept further to the front of his mind.
“It is something,” James said. “It means something, for sure. I’m not going to sit here and say it doesn’t mean anything to me. And for me to be able to win it a few times in my career is always been special. And being in the running, hearing my name with some of the best basketball players in the league this year again, it would mean a lot. At my age, what I’m able to do, what I’ve been doing this whole season, what I bring to the table every single night on both sides of the floor.
“It would mean an unbelievable thing for me, especially at this point in my career. So, we just see where the chips may lay.”
LeBron, maybe more so than ever, has made it clear that he wants the honor of being named league MVP this season. In his first media availability post All-Star break, James said “It’s go time.” He referenced shifting from gear 1, 2 and 3 in the first half of the season to gear 4, 5 and 6 in the second half before ending up at gear 7 in the postseason.
And did he take off to start the second half of the season.
The Lakers have gone undefeated out of the break, defeating the Pacers, Warriors, Timberwolves and Hornets, to improve to 11-7 without Anthony Davis this season and come within 1½ games of the No. 1-seed Jazz.
In the process, James has regained his footing in the MVP race, after falling a spot or two the pecking order amid the Lakers’ pre-All-Star-break skid.
Since the intermission, James is averaging 25.5 points (on 56.5 percent shooting), 8.3 rebounds and 9.8 assists. He registered a double-double against the Pacers, back-to-back triple-doubles against the Warriors and Timberwolves, and 37 points, 8 rebounds and 6 assists against the Hornets.
With Joel Embiid battling a knee injury for the next two weeks, Jokic and the Nuggets well behind the Lakers, and the guys in Brooklyn canceling each other out, LeBron could and should ascend to the top.
But will he in the eyes of the voters?
All season long James and Embiid have been neck and neck in the race for MVP. But never has anyone given James the edge. But that top spot has been cycled through via narrative. Some have had Durant and Harden as MVP favorites. Others had Curry and Lillard. At times Jokic. Hell even Chris Paul had his name thrown out there by Charles Barkley.
So why is James ceiling second for the award?
Voters fatigue? Well maybe 5 years ago. But it has been 7 years since he last won the award. It can’t be voters fatigue.
Better statistics? Doubtful. James, by both traditional and advanced metrics, is recognized as either the best or second best in the league.
Narrative? Have you actually thought of the narrative if James won? At 36 years old, leading the Lakers to a top 2 seed in the stacked Western Conference without Anthony Davis, during the pandemic. Any media outlet could run with THAT narrative for weeks. So it can’t be narrative based.
Best player on a top seed team? Yes, and without AD, he is far and away the best player which can’t be said about Embiid or Jokic who have their number two healthy alongside them nightly.
If there is no dominant team (like the recent Warriors or Bucks) or dominant player statistically (like recent iterations of Curry, Antetokounmpo or Harden), how can one justify not awarding the games best player with the MVP award? He checks every box in the ever changing required criteria.
With a fifth MVP, he’d ascend into historical air, joining Michael Jordan, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Russell as the only five-time winners.
But don’t count on it happening despite the overwhelming evidence that he deserves it. After all, this is the same voting system that produced just a single MVP award each for Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant while Steve Nash has two. But I digress.