Mystery solved. The lone writer who listed Carmelo Anthony first, denying LeBron James the first-ever unanimous MVP, was Gary Washburn of the Boston Globe. And he sounds almost...apologetic?
Washburn's reasoning is exactly what you expected. He puts it succinctly, "I thought Anthony was the most valuable player to his team this season, not the best player in the league."
This is going to happen as long as sports leagues call the award the "most valuable player," instead of "most outstanding player"—semantically, it's easier to make a case for multiple candidates than when it's just about who's the best.
Washburn explains using the old "take player X off his team and see what happens" thought experiment:
If you were to take Anthony off the Knicks, they are a lottery team. James plays with two other All-Stars, the league’s all-time 3-point leader, a defensive stalwart, and a fearless point guard. The Heat are loaded.
If LeBron was taken away from the Heat, they still would be a fifth or sixth seed. He is the best player of this generation, a multifaceted superstar with the physical prowess of Adonis, but I chose to reward a player who has lifted his team to new heights.
This is entirely valid reasoning, but also takes you dangerous places. The Celtics never looked quite as dangerous after Rajon Rondo went down—is Rondo the MVP? Russell Westbrook? Danilo Gallinari? I prefer the more telling thought experiment of replacing an MVP candidate with another superstar. Give the Knicks Kevin Durant instead of Carmelo Anthony, and they're instantly a better team. But take LeBron off the Heat, and everything changes. The offense runs entirely through him, even when he's off the ball. The defensive sets are based around who he's matched up on. Without LeBron, the Heat might survive—but they wouldn't even be recognizable as the same team.
But Washburn's made his case for Carmelo, and it's not an unsupportable one. We only wish he didn't sound so defensive about being the lone holdout.
When I submitted my vote in mid-April, I had no idea I would be the only voter to leave LeBron out of first...
The perception that I knew the other 120 voters cast their first-place votes for LeBron and that I went against the grain as some kind of statement is inaccurate...
I definitely understand those who believe LeBron should have won unanimously...
NBA MVP voting has long been unhealthily meta, with writers loathe to vote for certain guys repeatedly, and dwelling on past snubs. It's insane that Steve Nash has more trophies than Shaquille O'Neal. It's ludicrous that Michael Jordan only has five. (Washburn even cites two MJ screwjobs in his column, as if the fact that writers had Jordan fatigue in the past absolves him from checking LeBron's name yet again.) But maybe the nutty history of MVP voting makes Washburn's dissent a good thing. With the obsession with voting totals, a sweep for LeBron would have set off controversy—how can he be the first unanimous pick without having the greatest single season in NBA history? Trust me, that debate would have been more insufferable than this one.
We're falling into the same overthinking trap. If you want to be cynical about this, there's one giant reason Washburn would have voted for Carmelo Anthony: so you'd click on his column explaining it.
Why my MVP vote this year was Carmelo Anthony [Boston Globe]