LeBron James gets first-place MVP vote from Cavaliers beat writer

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Is Stephen Curry or James Harden the NBA MVP?

It appears to be a two-man race at this point, the Warriors and Rockets guards near locks to finish 1-2 in the voting.

LeBron James said he’d vote for himself, though – and at least one actual voter agrees.

Jason Lloyd of the Akron Beacon Journal:

Trying to wade through the NBA’s postseason awards ballot is both an honor and a welcomed burden. You want to do your best to get it right by your standards, even if sometimes you’re the lone voice in the field.

As a voter I spend all year taking notes, watching as many games as my schedule allows (on League Pass on off nights) and chatting with other players, coaches and front office folks on their views of who belongs where. Toward the end of the season I begin asking players for their opinion

Here is my full ballot, as submitted to the accounting firm Ernst & Young this weekend, along with a brief explanation of why I voted the way I did.

MVP

LeBron James, James Harden, Steph Curry, Russell Westbrook, Anthony Davis

Maybe I’m the only writer in the country who doesn’t get swept up in the Curry/Harden debate and votes LeBron No. 1. That’s fine. I’m ready for whatever scrutiny comes with it. I laid out a couple of weeks ago why I believe James is still the MVP of this league and I’m not wavering now.

He lifted an entire franchise and region with his return. He took a team going on its third coach in as many years, with the worst overall record the past four years, a dysfunctional locker room and a hands-on owner and (eventually) steadied it all. Not to mention Kyrie Irving’s development playing alongside him.

My vote for James has nothing to do with working for his hometown paper. No other player in the league could’ve convinced Kevin Love to agree to a trade to Cleveland. No other player in the league could’ve pulled the Cavs from where they were to where they are. He is truly the league’s most valuable player.

Harden and Curry have both been fabulous as well. Harden earns extra points for improving defensively and carrying the Rockets while Dwight Howard was injured and doing it in the ultra competitive Western Conference. Westbrook’s effort in Oklahoma City has been Herculean at times without Kevin Durant, and Anthony Davis is the future of this league. His place on this list is only going to keep rising.

First of all, kudos to Lloyd for posting an explanation of his ballot. Award votes became public last year – an excellent move – but voters were under no obligation to explain their rationale. In a profession where we constantly ask people to explain themselves, journalists should be transparent ourselves. So, I salute Lloyd for doing that.

And I don’t doubt the sincerity of his desire to get this right. Not everyone puts in so much time considering their award votes, to the detriment of the process. It’s clear Lloyd does.

But I just don’t understand this: “My vote for James has nothing to do with working for his hometown.”

How can Lloyd say that with such certainty?

We all have biases, conscious and subconscious. I find it impossible to believe Lloyd would view the MVP race the same way if he weren’t covering LeBron and the Cavaliers daily. We’re all shaped by our experiences, and seeing LeBron up close so frequently leaves an impression. Same with Curry and writers in Oakland and Harden and writers in Houston.

As far as Lloyd’s explanation, I’m unconvinced Curry or Harden couldn’t lift the Cavaliers in a similar way. Just because they’re not from Cleveland and didn’t choose to, that doesn’t mean they couldn’t.

If Lloyd wants to cast the best ballot possible – and I believe he does – he should acknowledge that covering the Cavaliers colors his opinion. Then, he should grapple with the difficult follow-up question: How?

I’m not totally convinced Lloyd’s choice is wrong. I wouldn’t pick LeBron, but he belongs in the running. Lloyd could deeply consider how covering LeBron daily affects his opinion and still reach the same conclusion.

But when he dismisses that dilemma by stating unequivocally, “My vote for James has nothing to do with working for his hometown,” it’s hard to chalk this up as anything more than hometown bias – even if it’s unintentional hometown bias.