It’s been going on for months and months and a clear winner has yet to emerge. The public looks on with great intrigue; new developments surface daily, with supporters on all sides lavishing praise upon their candidate, while poking holes in the cases of opponents. Some point to a laundry list of accomplishments, some their consistency, some their judgment and some their ability to work with others.
It’s been a long and complicated year, yet the players continue to fight, continue to work and continue to offer compelling arguments as to why they deserve this most coveted honor. Obama, Clinton or McCain? Nope. Another race has been flying under the radar for some time — it’s not for the top spot in the USA, but the NBA.
The NBA Most Valuable Player award has been presented at the end of the regular season each year since 1956. Until 1980, the MVP was elected somewhat democratically: a popular vote of all NBA players. However, because of a number of unfortunate controversies — namely players from Florida having difficulties with hanging chads, along with those from both Michigan and the Sunshine State being disenfranchised for voting before the end of the regular season — the NBA now selects the MVP through a panel of 125 broadcasters, sportswriters and other Association bigwigs (read: superdelegates).
So what do you need to take home the Maurice Podoloff Trophy? Well, a name like Michael Jordan, Kareem Abdul Jabbar or Bill Russell is a start: These greats have combined for 16 MVPs — more than 30 percent of all MVP honors received in the history of the league. Often at the end of each season, one player settles in as the favorite to win the award — but not so this year. With the regular season coming to a close, there are four very legitimate, deserving contenders for the league’s top individual honor: Cleveland’s LeBron James, Los Angeles’ Kobe Bryant, New Orleans’ Chris Paul and Boston’s Kevin Garnett.
There are numerous arguments for why any of these players ought to take home the trophy, but who you think should win it depends largely on your view of what the “Most Valuable” in Most Valuable Player really means. Most Valuable to whom? One’s team? The league? The fans? The sport of basketball? Even if we were to nail this fundamental question down, it’s not clear how to judge this value.
If we judge an MVP based on sheer statistical dominance, it is difficult to argue against LeBron James. A triple-double threat every night, James leads the NBA in scoring at a whopping 30.4 points a game, while putting up historic all-around numbers that haven’t been seen since the days of Oscar Robertson (8 rebounds, 7 assists, 2 steals, and a block for good measure). He is absolutely essential for any success the Cavaliers enjoy: The team is 0-6 without him this season. The only knock against James’ candidacy is that even with him, the Cavs are only eight games over the .500 mark and will not win 50 games this year. As every player in the last 25 years to win the award has been on a team with at least 50 wins, this is something of an unwritten requirement.
If one chooses the MVP, as has often been done, by selecting the best player on the best team in the league, Kevin Garnett is the obvious choice. Although the pre-season favorite is having one of the worst statistical seasons of his career, one cannot argue with the outstanding success Boston is having this year. Garnett has led the Celtics to a league-best 58-15 record. For a team that won only 24 games all of last season, this marks one of the biggest turnarounds in NBA history.
Kobe Bryant is widely considered to be the best basketball player on the planet, and arguably the best player never to have won an MVP award. He is a 10-time All-Star, nine-time All-NBA Selection, seven-time All-Defensive Selection and has three championships, two scoring titles and zero MVP awards. With a strong supporting cast this season, Kobe has the Lakers in contention for another NBA championship, and many feel it’s time to give him his due.
No one thought Chris Paul would be this good this early. In only his second season, Paul has led the previously mediocre Hornets to the top of perhaps the most competitive Western Conference in history. Paul is a joy to watch play, dishing out a league-leading 11.5 assists per game and making every one of his teammates a better player. Paul has given the people of New Orleans something to get excited about and is the biggest reason professional basketball has survived in a city still recovering from the devastating effects of Hurricane Katrina.
And so the candidates will go about their business, working hard to improve their stake, while the superdelegates sit down this year to praise, debate and denigrate until we have our MVP. I’m just happy we don’t have to wait until November.
Dhruv Khullar is a junior in Davenport College.