Reports are swarming that LeBron James will be named the NBA’s MVP for the fourth time in the past five seasons. Somehow this makes Derrick Rose’s 2011 MVP — the only blemish in that stretch for LeBron — seem all the more impressive, if all the more anomalous. Only four other players (Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Bill Russell, Michael Jordan and Wilt Chamberlain) have won as many as four MVPs. Among them only Russell, who won four times in the five seasons between 1961 and 1965, has bunched those wins as tightly as LeBron’s. We're seeing the transition from mere dominance to outright steamrollery.
Between Jordan’s last MVP, in 1998, and LeBron’s first, in 2009, there were eight other MVPs, with Tim Duncan and Steve Nash both winning a couple. The league belonged variously to Karl Malone (sort of), Shaq, Kobe, Dirk, KG. None could hold it. The natural state of the NBA is for different individual players to excel in the regular season and for teams to repeat as champion. Thus, in that 12-year span that saw 10 MVPs, only seven teams won titles, and that stretch dovetailed with a 19-season run with only six champions. Those rhythms owe in part MVP voters getting tired of handing the statue to the same dude every year, while the playoffs are more friendly toward legacy applicants.
That’s what makes this LeBron run so epic. Plenty of writers must be sick of his ass. And plenty of other Hall-of-Fame-bound players are in their primes. But after LeBron’s season — 26.8 points, 7.3 assists, 8.0 rebounds, .565 FG shooting, .406 on 3-pointers, 0.9 blocks, 1.7 steals, 1.4 fouls, a 27-game win streak — who even warrants discussion? Kevin Durant, all right. You can mention Chris Paul or Carmelo Anthony so long as you also turn your palms up and shrug a little. Dwight Howard led the league in rebounds and was fifth in blocks but is no more MVP than Nate Robinson. There’s LeBron, there’s Durant and then there’s a league full of Washington Generals.
If the Heat wins the championship again this year, LeBron will join only ’91-’92 Jordan and ’61-’63 Russell as repeat MVPs who won repeat titles. He’s still a long way from winning this year, but if he does, he’ll be on a run that only happens every 20 or 30 years. The term “once in a generation” gets tossed around frivolously, especially about LeBron. In this metric, at least, it may turn out not merely to be accurate, but to be the least we can say of him.
Photo credit: Associated Press