A Decade of Greats in the NBA: How Should We Define Them?

Hoops4life Analyst ISeptember 12, 2008

Not long ago I saw a very interesting article depicting how after Michael Jordan left the game, the world was unsure of who the next greatest player in the world was. The article then went on to explain how we all soon found out it was LeBron James.

A very possible outcome.

But not definite. The brilliance of the NBA is that absolutely anything can happen. I don’t care what anyone says, no one thought the NBA season was going to play out as it did.

So don’t count the rest of the NBA out, don’t try and bet on this year’s MVP or eventual champion. Seriously, it’s just not worth it.

But what interested me in the article was how some players have been robbed of prestigious awards, etc. If you knew Shaquille O'Neal's career well, but didn’t know anything of what awards were given, you would never suspect he only had one regular-season MVP. You would never guess Kobe Bryant just won his first. It’s pretty strange to think that James doesn’t yet have one.

And yet, do you deny Tim Duncan deserved his two? Or Steve Nash? Of course there can always be arguments made, but no one can definitely say that Nash or Duncan or Dirk Nowitzki didn’t deserve theirs, because, in the end, it comes down to how you view that particular award or how you view how valuable certain players are.

The problem is that with some players, they can be both valuable and detrimental; again, it normally comes down to how you view it. If you look at Bryant before this season, he was constantly criticized for being a ball-hog and for hurting the teams offense. Yet it was obvious he was keeping his team alive with his scoring outbursts.

O'Neal has won teams hundreds of games with his dominance, and lost quite a few with his free-throw shooting. So I guess you kind of have to take the bad with the good.

What it comes down to is that there are more great players than there are seasons.

Allen Iverson. Tim Duncan. Kevin Garnett. Kobe Bryant. Tracy McGrady. Steve Nash. Dirk Nowitzki. Shaquille O’Neal. Ben Wallace. Jermaine O’Neal. Dwayne Wade. Carmelo Anthony. LeBron James. Jason Kidd. Chris Paul. Yao Ming.

Within the last decade or so, at one point or another you could argue that these guys deserved an MVP award. I’m talking about the last seven to eight years, yet I’ve just listed 16 players. And there are quite a few I’ve left out. What if I started listing the guys that just had the one good year and then fell off?

Peja Stojakovic? Ron Artest?

Like I said, I’m not saying that the actual winners of these awards are not worthy. Let’s look at Nash. He won his first MVP award in 2005, and his second in 2006. If I look at 2005, and had the deciding vote, I would vote for O’Neal, as he went to Miami and transformed a franchise; his motivation to start working out again was an inspiration as he had one of his best seasons.

If I look at 2006 and had the deciding vote, I would vote for Bryant, because he absolutely dominated the league that year in terms of scoring and made the Lakers at least relevant again after the disaster of the year before.

And yet, if I look at the two years overall, and I look at Nash, he does deserve at least the one MVP award. He began Phoenix’s run of domination and turned the Suns into the most exciting team in the league. He is easily the best point guard (so far) of the decade, and I loved to see a player dominate the game without scoring, even though he can definitely do that, too.

Of course, players have been shunned before. And I’m going to go ahead and guess that will happen more in the future, but it doesn’t really deduct from the arguments surrounding who is the greatest, etc. Bryant just won his first MVP, but before that, most people would still have voted him as the best basketball player in the world, as well they should.

The point I am making is that although awards are great, and that the winners should be revered, players’ legacies should not be defined because of them. In the same way that championships shouldn’t.

Patrick Ewing. Karl Malone. John Stockton. Reggie Miller. Charles Barkley. They never won a championship, but still are among the game’s greatest of all-time.

Of course, sometimes awards are used as criteria and as a measuring stick, the same as rings and stats, and I don’t mind that every once in a while, but players should never be defined by statistics. For half of Bill Russell’s career, they didn’t record blocked shots, yet there is no doubt that he was one of, perhaps the best defensive player of all-time.

Perhaps the biggest annoyance I have with the basketball world is John Hollinger’s damn Efficiency Ratings.

Basketball is not math. Basketball is not strictly numbers.

Basketball is a sport. Basketball is a game.

It is impossible to dictate how valuable a player is or how good he is by looking at his numbers.

A look at last year’s PER rankings hosts some abominations, such as Amare Stoudamire being better than Kobe Bryant. Carlos Boozer being better than Kevin Garnett. Vince Carter being better than Paul Pierce. Brad Miller being better than Manu Ginobli, Hedo Turkoglu, and Brandon Roy?!

Truth being that there is no statistic that takes everything into account, and there never will be. Thank God, because there wouldn’t be much point in watching after that, would there?

Of course, no one is going to win the MVP, if they handed them out like candy, they wouldn’t be as coveted, would they? There will some I don’t agree with, some I would rather went to someone else, and it's the same for you. At the end of the day, though, that shouldn’t take away from our enjoyment of the game.

James may well win his first MVP this season.

He may well not, he may well never win one, but that does not subtract from what an amazing basketball player he is.