For just about anyone else winning the NBA’s Most Valuable Award would be a good thing, with no downside. It’s an award that carries legitimate weight, not just in terms of current cultural cache, but longer-lasting greatness in the context of a player’s legacy. It should be cause for celebration.
But for LeBron James, it’s somehow another reflection of his failures, another illustration of what he’s not.
To be clear, James was the winner of the award as the AP reported Friday for good reason. He put in not the most efficient season of his career, or the most statistically significant. It wasn’t his best season defensively, he wasn’t the best player on the best team (a terrible way to decide the award) , and he certainly didn’t carry his team further than the other candidates given his sparkling supporting cast.
But for James, this was his most impactful season. You saw him everywhere, and you saw him controlling the game. Running the offense, finishing on the break, blocking chase downs, locking up the best perimeter players, locking up the best post players, playing in the post on offense, hitting shots on the outside. Even his fourth quarter foibles took a step up in the last month of the season. There should be nothing but celebration and praise for James’ play.
But there won’t be. There will, however, be a lot of this.
“That’s OK, LeBron, but where are your rings?”
“Individual MVPs don’t make champions.”
As if James, who did not lobby for this award, who did not ask for his third in four years, who never insinuated that this award means anything other than the respect of the voters, asked to be held by this standard, to be anointed as champion based on winning a Kia. I get it. The “Chosen One” tattoo. The King moniker which is as much a Nike marketing ploy as anything. There’s no doubting it’s obnoxious. But the bitterness surrounding what has truly been a magnificent season is still shocking.
James was voted the league’s most valuable player, but in his context, it means something entirely different. It would be a pain to fit on the trophy, but “Most Valuable Player despite a considerable portion of the voters hating him and deliberately withholding votes last year based on his decision to hold a televised event regarding his free agency which probably also impacted this year’s vote and in spite of a stunning revilement of the idea of going to play with the best of your peers in a league featuring six teams with multiple stars angling for a title in the playoffs” is a bit more accurate. James didn’t just win the vote this year, he won the vote despite people’s intentions.
If there was a way for the voters not to vote for James in good conscience, they would have found it. This isn’t to say Kevin Durant wasn’t worthy. He most certainly was. But if anything, this award should impress you more. He managed to have people basically say “Look, I don’t like it, but he really was the best/most impactful/most outstanding/most valuable basketball player this season.” That’s a pretty impressive accomplishment. And yet it won’t be held as such. It only makes the pressure greater. It’s like throwing bits of cheese on top of Kilimanjaro, but that’s not the point. Winning MVP isn’t validation for James, it’s just another indictment. “You won the individual award, but what about the championship which we always say is about the team unless we’re debating your legacy in which case you need to single-handedly do everything at all times?”
And here’s the kicker. I’m not even complaining that it’s not fair. It is fair. Well, maybe not fair, but it’s simply how this gig works. It’s the price for that “great life” he talked about after the Game 6 loss last year in the Finals. This is what comes with having James’ gift. He’s the most gifted athlete of our time, and his failures, while pretty understandable and relatively on track with that one guy who we stupidly compare everyone to, are undeniable. The rings, they have not come. And so James will accept another trophy, another car to donate to charity, the accolades and backhanded compliments that come with it.
And if he does manage to win a ring, becoming one of the few over the past twenty years to win MVP and the title in the same season?
Well, then, that’s a whole other conversation we’re going to have to have.
(Side note: There’s also a lot of this today: “Just saying, LeBron! Very few players have won the title the same year they won MVP!” as if one thing had anything to do with the other. What, are the voters failing to elect the right person because he doesn’t win the title? Does the real best, or most valuable, or most exceptional, or most whatever you want to call him player always win the title? Was the MVP Dirk Nowitzki last year? Or Kobe Bryant in a comparatively down season in 2010? How about Dwyane Wade in 2006? Furthermore, is that supposed to spook James? Not that he reads the random twitter babbling of idiots, but if he did, is he really going to say “Oh, man, trying to beat Kevin Garnett and the Celtics who have expelled me from the playoffs every season but last when Rajon Rondo was injured and the Spurs/Thunder/Lakers is one thing, but having to win despite a correlation with absolutely no causation that’s occurred, that’s real pressure?” )