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Open letter to MVP voters and fans: LeBron James is still the king
I realize that there are blinding levels of homerism. It's natural to become attached to the good you're familiar with and romanticize it out of proportion. That kind of passionate loyalty is the foundation of most marriages and the reason 20,000 fans chant "MVP" in unison for their local hero. Unfortunately, there can't be as many MVPs as there are arenas chanting for them, or the award would lose its significance. The NBA's Most Valuable Player is supposed to recognize only the rarest of greatness.
This leaves a lot of fans with a harsh reality: unless you live in Miami, your hero isn't the most valuable. LeBron James's(notes) impact on the game is tangible and unparalleled. But you know what? It's understandable that fans, blinded by their love and bias, would overlook the obvious. It's understandable that they would magnify his weaknesses and concentrate on whatever singular attribute their star boasts over LeBron. I get that.
What's harder to understand, however, is why it took a 50 point, 11 rebound and 8 assist outburst followed by a 41, 13 and 8 explosion, and two long Miami Heat winning streaks for the professionals whose jobs it is to watch these games critically and produce informed opinions to recognize this man as serious candidate. Either we're not all defining what Most Valuable Player means the same way or…
Something is wrong here.
To be fair, most of the former basketball players turned analysts like Tim Legler and Jalen Rose, and even a few enlightened sportswriters like Yahoo's Kelly Dwyer and ESPN's John Hollinger, have included LeBron in these discussions. But it's been only a small minority among the writers we see on TV; the ones who carry the responsibility of upholding the trophy's legitimacy. Why, you ask?
Resentment and politics.
That LeBron was still practically banished from the MVP discussion after the Heat's first surge, and that the media scoured the rosters of winning teams for someone to dethrone the king, suggests that there's lingering resentment about LeBron's uncompetitive "decision." The media is echoing this bitterness by becoming populist politicians. But LeBron James's greatness is making it difficult to campaign successfully, without changing the definition of MVP.
Defining an MVP
Throughout the history of the NBA, MVP has literally meant what the acronym stands for: most valuable player. It's basically an award for indispensability, with one condition: the player must come from a winning team, preferably a title contender. In fact, not since Moses Malone in 1981-82 has an MVP come from a team that won less than 50 games. Clearly, it is not awarded to simply the best player or Jordan and Chamberlain would have won a lot more, and LeBron would've won four or five by now.
If you look down the list of MVPs, you see players like Bill Russell and Steve Nash(notes) winning the award multiple times. Neither of these players was ever the best in any given year, but voters thought they were the most valuable to their teams. They must have decided that removing them from their rosters would've had the most harmful effect or that if you swapped Chamberlain for Russell, for instance, or Kobe for Nash, the Celtics or the Suns wouldn't have been as good. Although I may find all of that ludicrous, I specifically remember Wilt Chamberlain saying in an interview that if he had played for those same Celtics instead of Russell, they wouldn't won as many titles. So, there is a level of subjectivity here.
In the current discussion, however, no one in their right mind would would suggest LeBron couldn't lead the current Bulls team even better than Rose does. Heck, if the Bulls were to offer Rose for LeBron or Wade, they would have give up more, simply because anything Derrick Rose does, Wade and LeBron do better. If you want to say that Rose is more valuable to the Bulls than LeBron is to the Heat, statistics suggest that you're wrong.
And so, in the most ridiculous maneuvering I've seen since I've followed the NBA, here's the justification for Rose over LeBron being peddled in the media as logic: Rose doesn't have as much help as LeBron.
LeBron may post stronger statistics than Rose in just about every single category and lead his team to more wins, but you're going make Rose the MVP because "he has less help?" The new Least Helped Player (LHP) award?
Help is almost necessary condition to win MVP! Kareem Abdul-Jabbar didn't win the MVP until the exact year he got Oscar Roberston. Michael Jordan didn't win the MVP until the exact year he got Scottie Pippen. Charles Barkley didn't win the MVP until the exact year he got Kevin Johnson. Steve Nash didn't win the MVP until the exact year he got Amare Stoudemire(notes). Kobe Bryant(notes) didn't win the MVP until the exact year he got Pau Gasol(notes).
But you want to give it to him because he has less help? Forget the ten million reasons LeBron deserves it, let's just go with the less help thing?
LeBron James leaves a Cleveland Cavaliers team that won over 60 games last year and topped the Eastern Conference, and it becomes the worst team in the history of professional basketball. In half of a season, he's transformed the Miami Heat from an Orlando Magic and Boston Celtic chew toy to an instant rival. Examine regular season statistics, and you'll notice LeBron James is in the top 5 in 11 categories. Derrick Rose? Only 3. If you expanded the comparison to top 30s, LeBron's superiority would be even more unquestionable, as he towers over Derrick Rose in most defensive statistics as well. This didn't just all of the sudden happen after some recent offensive LBJ eruptions. This guy made it look like he was playing against high schoolers in the All Star game. He took the first half off, then decided to go for 29 points, 12 rebounds and 10 assists. His number may be down from previous year's astronomical efforts, but he's still been orbiting around a different planet from the rest of the league.
If those stats aren't enough, the math gurus over at basketball-reference.com have also developed a highly accurate way of determining the contribution an individual player has to team success called Win Shares. The stat is so reliable that you can take the average Win Shares for the players on a team, that is, the amount of wins they are each expected to contribute, add them up, and the sum will give you the amount of games their team will win with an average error of about three games.
How does Derrick Rose stack up? LeBron is second in the NBA in Win Shares, and Rose isn't even in the top 5. If you're not comfortable with advanced statistics or regular statistics, and it isn't obvious to you just watching the games that LeBron is leagues ahead of everyone else in terms of value, talent or whatever historically relevant rubric you can conjure, then you shouldn't be voting.
If you're holding a contrived grudge, or real one, then you shouldn't be voting.
But, look closer.
Anyone who doesn't recognize that the Miami Heat's LeBron James is the MVP either isn't paying attention or doesn't respect the integrity of the award.
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