David Robinson should have won the 1994-95 NBA MVP award.
The San Antonio Spurs center managed to outpace the previous year’s winner, Houston’s Hakeem Olajuwon, in points per minute, in rebounding rate, in turnover rate, in Player Efficiency Rating, Defensive and Offensive Win Shares, and overall Win Shares. He played 10 more games than Olajuwon that season, and his Spurs won 15 more games than the defending champion Rockets that year.
Robinson did win the NBA MVP award that season, rightfully, and when that year’s Western Conference finals hit, this happened:
In that series, Olajuwon averaged 35.3 points per game, 12.3 rebounds, 4.2 blocks, and five assists per game. He added eight steals. The Spurs lost in six games, as Robinson “only” managed 23.8 points, 11.3 boards, 2.1 blocks, and 2.6 assists a contest. He added nine steals, as the prevailing wisdom of the day stated that Robinson stole the MVP award from a more deserving Hakeem.
Hakeem, in a recent interview with the Rockets’ website that was thankfully transcribed by Benjamin Borstein at Project Spurs, backed off on that notion:
“I want to correct everybody, David deserved the MVP. I wasn’t having an MVP year that year and David was having a great year. The motivation was knowing we can win but had nothing to do with being mad at losing the MVP to David Robinson.”
(This flies in the face of what Kenny Smith incessantly brings up, via several outlets, in the years since. Smith claims, and we don’t doubt the guy, that Hakeem was muttering “that’s my trophy” to his teammates when Robinson was awarded the MVP prior to Game 1 of the WCF. Whether this was just a motivation technique or actual anger – at either himself for the step-back year, at Robinson or at the voters – is unclear.)
Hakeem Olajuwon absolute whooped Robinson’s tail during that playoff series, but the MVP is an individual award based on regular season performance. A regular season that saw Robinson outperforming Hakeem Olajuwon. There’s no way around that.
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The idea that Robinson somehow let his team down during that series while being outplayed by the brilliant Hakeem Olajuwon is a bit off, as well. History tends to look at that Houston Rockets team as a juggernaut that was turned around by a midseason trade that brought in Clyde Drexler from the Portland Trail Blazers, but the Rockets actually only finished the season on an 17-18 run with Drexler in the lineup.
Houston needed all five games and a clutch road win in the deciding game to take down the Utah Jazz in the first round. It needed all seven games and a debilitating back injury to Charles Barkley to deliver a clutch Game 7 win over the Phoenix Suns in the second round. And despite Olajuwon’s dominance, the Rockets still needed six games (losing both contests at home) to take down a Spurs team that was inferior to Houston on paper.
It was a remarkable run. Not as dominant as you probably remember, but full of the brio and brilliance that made the Rockets such a fascinating team to behold and eventually root for. Clearly bulletproof, the Rockets went on to sweep the Orlando Magic in the Finals, finishing perhaps the most impressive postseason run in NBA history.
Hakeem will take his second consecutive ring, and his 1993-94 MVP trophy over Robinson’s 1994-95 version. And The Admiral will also happily take his 1999 and 2003 NBA championship rings, on top of his 1995 honor.
It seems like this all worked out in the end.
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