Kareem Abdul-Jabbar is a wise man who commands respect much like a Supreme Court justice.
With that in mind, let Abdul-Jabbar give the majority opinion on who should be the NBAs Most Valuable Player this season.
I think that this years MVP award will end up in the hands of Kevin Durant, Abdul-Jabbar said of the Oklahoma City forward. Durant is my choice as front-runner due to the success of his team. Yes, he is on a young and talented team, but his presence has been the catalyst for their recent dominance.
With the MVP race expected to be extremely close between Durant and Miami forward LeBron James, who better to project the winner than former MVPs? And one might heed Abdul-Jabbars opinion the most, since he won more MVPs than anybody, claiming his first in 1971 and taking home his record sixth in 1980.
But, even if he might be the chief justice, Abdul-Jabbar still gets just one vote in the case of KD v. King James. There were 11 MVPs consulted, including incumbent Derrick Rose, the Chicago guard who recently told the media he believes Durant should be the victor. FOX Sports Florida then contacted 10 other MVPs, who provided their takes.
Durant was the winner, getting five votes to four for James, with two abstentions. Willis Reed, handed the Maurice Podoloff Trophy in 1970 for New York, and Kevin Garnett, the 2004 winner with Minnesota, both declined to pick a winner, although neither disagreed it will be between Durant and James.
So, take out Reed and Garnett, and nine who cast votes, the same number that is on the Supreme Court. With Abdul-Jabbar having offered the majority opinion, let us turn to another legendary center for the dissenting opinion.
Theres no question LeBron deserves the MVP, with his performance playing a complete game and for a successful team, said Hakeem Olajuwon, the 1994 winner for Houston. When you look at his contribution to his team and their record, theres no question he deserves it.
Olajuwon insists having worked on post moves with James last summer had no bearing on his choice and that his game speaks for itself. Considering James didnt come out on top in this vote, its doubtful anybody will complain about a possible conflict of interest.
Others besides Abdul-Jabbar and Rose voting for Durant were Bob Pettit, the first MVP winner with St. Louis in 1956 and also the 1959 recipient, Dave Cowens, honored in 1973 for Boston, and Phoenixs Steve Nash, the 2005 and 2006 winner. Other than Olajuwon, James supporters were Bob Cousy, the second MVP winner with Boston in 1957, Oscar Robertson, the 1964 recipient for Cincinnati, and Shaquille ONeal, who won in 2000 with the Lakers.
So Durant picked up key votes from the first MVP, the incumbent and the guy with the most trophies.
Kevin Durant, Pettit said definitively. I just think that he means so much to his team. You look at all the things he does, and hes so valuable to his team. They have (Russell) Westbrook, who is a strong player, but if you take Durant off Oklahoma City, they wouldnt be as good (as Miami).
The Heat have two other All-Stars in Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh while the Thunder have just one other in Westbrook. To some, that was a difference in this MVP race since theres not a lot that separates James and Durant.
Through Sunday, James was averaging 26.9 points, 8.0 rebounds and 6.3 assists and Durant 27.8 points, 7.9 rebounds and 3.5 assists. The Heat have a 42-17 record while the Thunder are 44-16. If Oklahoma City has a better mark April 26, the final day of the regular season and when ballots are due, that could end up making a difference.
So could the fact James earned MVP honors in 2009 and 2010 with Cleveland while Durant never has won one. There have been many cases when the MVP, which has been voted upon by the media since 1981 after the players had cast ballots, has gone to the guy who hasnt won before. Even Olajuwon said Durant could be a sentimental choice.
There is always a tendency to reward a new player such as Durant when it is close with both personal stats and team wins, Cowens said. I think this thinking certainly helped me win an MVP.
Cowens was handed the trophy after Abdul-Jabbar had won the previous two years with Milwaukee. Abdul-Jabbar won his six trophies, three with the Bucks and three with the Lakers, in a 10-year span but never claimed more than two in a row.
Rose was the fresh guy last year while James finished third. Might James again be denied a chance to become the eighth man to win three or more MVPs? Rose believes that should be the case.
KD is playing great, Rose said. Im hearing about what hes doing, hearing about how hes playing. The numbers speak for itself.
Then again, do they?
The website 82games.com ranks NBA players using a complex statistical model. James is No. 1 in the NBA with a 18.0 figure while Durant is No. 5 at 11.1.
LeBron has the edge because hes having his best season, Cousy said. He seems to be touching every base. This is his year. Hes the complete package and doesnt seem to have any perceptible weaknesses. Hes strong with his rebounding and his penetration and his perimeter shooting and his defense, and hes a (good) passer.
Cousy has another reason why hes going with James
Im in Florida, said Cousy, who lives half the year West Palm Beach and half in Worcester, Mass. Ive been brainwashed.
But Robertson lives in Cincinnati. And he also picked James.
I dont think you can go wrong with LeBron, Robertson said. Its kind of hard not to go with LeBron with the stats and what hes done with winning Player of the Week and Player of the Month all those times.
James has claimed five Eastern Conference Player of the Week awards, while Durant has won three in the West. But in terms of Player of the Month, its actually a dead heat, with James winning in the East for January and February and Durant in the West for February and March.
That James two awards came in the first two months and Durants came in the past two months could offer an indication how the race is going. James was considered the early leader, but perhaps has fallen back due to the Heat going just 7-6 since they were 35-11.
Miamis drop-off started with a 103-87 loss at Oklahoma City on March 25, when Durant had 28 points, nine rebounds and eight assists to 17 points, three rebounds and seven assists for James. But James got revenge April 4 in a 98-93 home win over the Thunder by totaling 34 points, seven rebounds and 10 assists to Durants 30 points, four rebounds and three assists along with nine turnovers.
One thing nobody doubts is the MVP race will be close.
Everybody has the same opinion that its either LeBron or Durant, said ONeal, who was James teammate with Cleveland in 2009-10 and is now a TNT analyst. Both are doing the same thing for their teams. Its really, really close. I would probably go with LeBron . But KD would be a close second. It wouldnt be like no landslide vote.
Cowens agrees the margin will be narrow in the vote. But one reason he went with Durant is the very positive imagine he projects.
I say give it to Durant because he represents himself and his team well and has been on top of his game from the get-go in the league, said Cowens, who said the race is so close you wouldnt get an argument from me if James won.
Durants squeaky-clean image could perhaps help in the voting the way it did when Nash won his two trophies. ONeal, not always known for being Mr. Nice Guy, still believes he should have won in 2005, when Nash beat him by a narrow margin.
(Durants) play has resonated with the fans in style and content, Abdul-Jabbar said. It reminds me of the way Steve Nash achieved so much popularity a few years ago. People were impressed with his mastery of the game and his ability to lead his team to win consistently. That type of charisma is contagious and probably was the reason that Steve won the award more than once.
With that in mind, Nash selected Durant. He didnt offer much elaboration, simply saying his pick was based on the kind of year he is having.
At least Nash made a choice. Reed, retired on a farm in Louisiana, had little interest in the survey, saying, I like them both. Im just a fan. Im just watching now. And Garnett called the race too close to call.
Either one, said Garnett, now with Boston. Both are playing well. LeBron is always having a stat-filled year. Durant is fresher blood.
If Durant comes out on top, he would become the 30th different winner. Of the 29 handed the Podoloff Trophy in its first 56 years, 28 are still alive. Four-time winner Wilt Chamberlain died in 1999.
Its an exclusive club indeed. No eligible MVP winner is not in Hall of Fame, and theres no reason at this point why any of not-yet-eligible winners wont be enshrined.
If this fraternity welcomes a new member in Durant, Olajuwon will be among those to gladly welcome him. No word on whether theres a special MVP handshake he will be taught.
When youre an MVP, you know what it takes and how special it is, Olajuwon said of bond between players who have won the award. Its a different caliber of a player, and you give your respects tremendously because of the honor.
Nobody has been honored more than Abdul-Jabbar, the wise man who turned 65 Monday. Hes hoping next month to welcome a young Durant to the club.
Abdul-Jabbar was 23 when he was handed his first MVP. Durants age? Yes, 23.
Chris Tomasson can be reached at email@example.com or Twitter @christomasson