NBA Most Valuable Player: A Joke of an Award

Andrew Ungvari@DrewUngaSenior Writer IFebruary 5, 2008

It's that time of the year again—let the campaigning begin.

Oh, I'm not talking about John McCain, Mitt Romney, Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama. I'm talking about the NBA's Most Valuable Player Award.

You can't watch a game anymore without hearing chants of "MVP! MVP!" every time an All-Star steps to the free-throw line.

And for what?

So you can have bragging rights until NFL training camps open and everyone has already forgotten who won?

For the most part, the NBA's MVP Award has been a joke since 1995. That was the year when David Robinson stole the award from Hakeem Olajuwon and The Dream took it personally—he made it a point of humiliating Robinson in the playoffs that year, en route to his second-consecutive championship.

Since then, the only legitimate MVP winners were Michael Jordan, Tim Duncan, Steve Nash and Shaquille O'Neal.

Karl Malone?

A joke.

Allen Iverson?

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A bigger joke.

Dirk Nowitzki?

The biggest joke.

When did this arbitrary award, voted on by writers, become so gosh darn important? Have you seen what most of these writers look like?

At what moment did balding, 5'6", 290 lb. men become the authority on all things basketball?

Take a look at ESPN's Marc Stein, the Chicago Tribune's Sam Smith, or Mark Heisler of the Los Angeles Times and tell me if you think any of them would make more than two out of ten free throws.

For all intents and purposes, the NBA's MVP should now be described as "the award given to the player that will probably never win a championship but should have at least one thing to put on his mantle."

It all started with Karl Malone.

Undoubtedly, he was one of, if not, the greatest power forward the game has ever seen. But Malone won the award because of sympathetic voters who felt bad that the only thing preventing him from having four rings on his fingers were Hakeem Olajuwon and Michael Jordan. 

Perhaps you could even go back to Charles Barkley's MVP in 1993. But you could make a much stronger case for Barkley than you could for Iverson, Nowitzki, Kevin Garnett, or even back-to-back winner, Steve Nash.

Since 1980, only eight franchises have won NBA titles. That's an astonishing number, considering there are 30 franchises total.

Compare that to football, where fourteen different teams have won, or baseball, which has had eighteen different champions since 1980.

The NBA MVP was voted on by the players up until the 1980-81 season. It's tough for anyone to complain about an award voted on by peers. No explanation was given for the change. Perhaps it was because the NBA wanted to prevent the award from turning into a popularity contest.

But it has become just that. 

More recently, the award has become more about whose "turn it is" and which team's marketing machine can stage the best campaign.

It's as if the MVP has become to the Larry O'Brien Trophy what the Golden Globes are to the Academy Awards—not nearly as legitimate but the next-best thing, only because someone told us it was.

Before the MVP, that distinction belonged to the Olympic gold medal. The success of the rest of the world on the international stage has changed that.

But just like the Hollywood Foreign Press has convinced the public that the Golden Globes are important, the NBA's sportswriters and broadcasters have convinced the public that the MVP is really important, thus giving those members of the media way too much power.

But why do fans care so much? Do they feel like it's validation for their support of their hometown player or is it because they know their team won't win a championship and they want so badly to win that Golden Globe?

Maybe it's because I'm from Los Angeles that I don't care. The Lakers have been to the NBA Finals thirteen times since 1980. In that same amount of time, three different Lakers have won five MVPs. You think I care? Was there any consolation when their teams didn't win the title two of those years? None at all.

I recently contributed my own opinion for this year's MVP in Michael Whittenberg's NBA Roundtable. Personally, I think Chris Paul is the NBA's most deserving MVP.

But you know Paul isn't going to win the MVP for the same reason that freshmen don't win the Heisman Trophy—there's some unwritten rule that says that the young guys shouldn't get the award because it's not their turn—they haven't paid their dues and they'll have plenty more years to win it.

That's ridiculous.

Check out the MVP voting for the 2005 season. Take a look at Kobe Bryant's vote tally. He finished fourth overall and yet he was second in first-place votes with 22, six more than LeBron James, who finished third in first-place votes.

He had the fewest amount of second-place votes with only 11, the fewest amount of third-place votes with 18 and the highest total of fifth-place votes with 30.

How can the same person have 22 first-place votes and 30 fifth-place votes? It's easy. There are a lot of writers and broadcasters who just can't stand him. It's personal.

It's one thing to vote for the guy you want to finish first because you think he should win. It's a complete other thing to vote a guy fifth just to ensure that he won't win the award because you don't like him.

Believe me, I'm not making the case that Kobe should have won the award. But those numbers speak volumes about the people who vote for the award.  

How can the award be considered legitimate if unwritten rules, personal vendettas, marketing machines, popularity, and politics reign supreme? Why aren't there some standardized criteria established by the writers and broadcasters?

This year's Golden Globes were cancelled due to the WGA strike. I wouldn't be upset if the same thing happened to the MVP.