Know this: Regardless of who receives the award, Kobe Bryant is now and has been the most valuable player in this league for years. However, as many of you are aware, and as Bryant has been a living testament to, this does not necessarily translate into receiving the official title.
As of late, the MVP race has been reduced to a popularity contest. This was evidenced by Steve Nash being given the award two consecutive seasons, one of which happened to come during the same season in which Bryant averaged an incredible 35 ppg (the highest average the league has seen since Michael Jordan’s 37 ppg in ’86).
This was again evidenced when Dirk Nowitzki, who failed to break into the top 10 scoring leaders of the year also received the award.
I used to believe that the MVP award was given to the best player on the best team, (and that Nash was just an exception even to that rule) but if this is the case, why is LeBron James the front runner of the MVP race this year? The Cavaliers are not the best team in the league. Period. They aren’t even close.
Truthfully one would have been hard pressed to make that argument even before the Lakers stripped the Cavaliers of their undefeated home record, but now anyone holding on to that belief is either a fool or in denial.
So if the Cavaliers aren’t the first or maybe even the second best team in the league why is LeBron winning the race when statistics haven’t been enough to win the award in previous seasons?
One word: popularity.
Now I’d be the fool to pretend as though James was anything less than phenomenal during the course of this season and his career to date but ask yourself this, if the Cavaliers had not been able to hold on to their perfect home record for so long, would they have been any more talked about then San Antonio, who swept them out of the finals only two years ago?
And I’ll tell you why: LeBron James has not taken his team on to win any games that they should not have won this season. So far, he hasn't single-handedly elevated anything beyond his own statistics, as impressive as they may be.
Bryant, on the other hand led the Lakers to improbable victory after improbable victory time and again.
The first of which came during a touching Christmas day special in which Bryant really got his team into the spirit of giving, handing the Celtics an end to their franchise record 19-straight wins and simultaneously giving coach Phil Jackson a record of his own, making the coach the fastest in NBA history to reach 1000 career wins (1,423).
The second came against Boston once more, this time on the road and without recently injured center Andrew Bynum, who had been on a roll averaging 26.2 ppg, 13.8 reb, and 3.20 blocks over the five-game span previous to his injury.
The Celtics were once again holding a commanding double digit win streak and appeared to be holding all the cards. Though Bryant struggled throughout most of the second half, he hit a couple of clutch three pointers, asserting his will on the game and dragging his team past what was an eight-point deficit late in the fourth quarter.
Every time the Celtics seemed poised to run away with the game, Bryant’s ice cold clutch shots, involvement of his teammates and the surprising emergence of Lamar Odom lifted the Lakers to a thrilling one-point overtime win.
LeBron James’ team also used to be undefeated at home, but one day I checked nba.com and I didn’t see a zero in their home loss column anymore, I wonder who lead their team to a win in Cleveland? It certainly couldn’t have been Bryant who played through the game suffering from the flu....right?
Although Lamar Odom certainly picked up the slack, particularly in the second half, who do you think edged Odom to elevate his game in the first place? Odom had recently made a bet with Bryant that he could grab 20 rebounds in a game, a mark that he had just missed in Cleveland and in Utah before finally picking it up in Atlanta a few games later.
You see the myth that floats around that James makes his team better while Bryant doesn’t is just that, a myth. I wish I could say that’s the only false myth going around about Kobe, but it isn’t.
So many columnists, especially those affiliated with ESPN or even the NBA directly want to jump to the LeBron bandwagon and will denigrate Bryant’s abilities in order to sell him as the best player in the NBA. He isn’t.
Although his statistics for this season may be better than Bryant’s, there is a big gap in the level of depth between the Lakers and the Cavaliers, and as anyone with a basketball IQ higher than the number of hairs on Sam Cassel’s head should know there are only so many shots to go around.
What amazes me is that for the most part, the talking heads acknowledge the Lakers as the deepest team in the league but claim that because James’ stats include bigger numbers that he is not only doing better this season, but also that James is the better player.
My wish is that the Most Valuable Player award would encompass all areas of a player’s game, not just his marketability or his dunks, things like free throw shooting, or a consistent jumpshot or shot selection should also play a key role in determining who the most valuable player is.
Raw talent cannot be the only thing that designates one player as the “best”, things like knowledge of the game and shot selection should also be taken into account, and unfortunately for James, Bryant has him beat in all three counts.
(Speaking about shot selection, did anyone actually watch the first game between the Cavaliers and Lakers, every time Kobe would set his feet and hit difficult shots, James would run all the way down the other end of the court as fast as he could and throw up impossible ones.)
Many of these same people who want to hand LeBron James the MVP award want to do the same with the NBA title, claiming the Cavaliers are destined to be the team LeBron wins his first NBA championship with.
Unfortunately for James, championships aren’t awards because it will take more than popularity to win. Allow me to end on this note, nothing I have written here was intended to be a knock on James, he is a phenomenal athlete and I would be a fool to say otherwise.
Assuming James can somehow take his team past the Celtics, he and all his fans are in for a rude awakening when the real “king” and MVP Kobe Bryant wins the only MVP award that matters...the one given out in June.