Kobe Bryant hasn’t always been the best person, the best teammate, the best ambassador for the National Basketball Association. This is the reason so many voters are searching for someone else to vote Most Valuable Player. For this, Bryant can blame himself. This is the price paid for petulance.
Still, Bryant is an MVP. He’s been the best player, a three-time champion and voters must ask themselves: If I don’t vote for him this year, what will it ever take? His talent, his accomplishments, his place in history, command multiple MVPs. This has been a season when everything has come together to make his candidacy unimpeachable.
His time, his trophy.
“You can’t just continue to take what Kobe is doing for granted,” Pistons president and Hall of Famer Joe Dumars said. “The guy is one of the truly great players and he should be recognized as such.”
No one needs historical context to make the case for Bryant this year. His season stands on its own. At 29, this isn’t a lifetime achievement award. Kobe is still the best of the best. MVPs, however, are never won overnight in the NBA. Mostly, it takes constructing credibility over the years. He’s been so great, for so long that Dumars is right: People do take him for granted.
As Mark Heisler’s informal poll in the Los Angeles Times showed, the MVP race appears to be down to Bryant and New Orleans point guard Chris Paul. Someday, Paul is going to be an MVP, a champion. He has saved basketball in New Orleans, passing Steve Nash and Jason Kidd as the best point guard on the planet. There isn’t a player in the league that I love more to talk with, that I love more to watch play, than Paul.
Yet, he will have to go No. 2 on my ballot. He hasn’t been first-team All-NBA. He still hasn’t played in the postseason. His time is coming, and coming fast, but there’s time for Paul. Before Paul and LeBron James and maybe Dwyane Wade are 29 years old, they’ll probably have MVP trophies. Bryant’s wait has been long enough.
Those who believe in Bryant’s greatness are forever ripping the voting process, saying it’s a joke that he’ll never been named MVP. Normally, they don’t tell you what year that should’ve happened, who should’ve lost out. Once Tim Duncan had won his two MVP awards, Nash and Dirk Nowitzki were winning, the Lakers losing, and Bryant lost three straight times in his prime. In those years, the mediocre Laker teams crushed his candidacy.
Always, it was this: In the post-Shaq era, Bryant had to be playing for a contender. This was the voter’s mandate. As much as anything, Nowitzki was the best player on the 67-win Mavericks a year ago and it was declared his window, his time. To hear people say that they want to hold off voting to see who finishes the Western Conference with the better record – New Orleans or Los Angeles – is missing the point here.
Bryant doesn’t need the Lakers to finish with the best record in the regular season. When the Lakers are together, yes, they are the most talented team in the NBA. Only, they haven’t been together this season. The Lakers are still fighting for the No. 1 seed with Andrew Bynum out since the middle of January and Pau Gasol arriving in February and missing nine games in March.
The idea that an MVP has to do more with less is nonsense. For coach of the year, it’s a fairer argument. When Magic Johnson and Larry Bird were winning MVPs in the 1980s, who held their rosters against them?
No one ever made Nash reach a conference final – never mind win a title – to give him his first MVP. He came on late in his career to transform himself, but that was never necessary with Bryant. At 29, he’s been great for most of a decade. He’s paid his price for petulance. Joe Dumars is right: No more taking Bryant for granted.
His time, his trophy.