LeBron James was the best player in the NBA this season.
Nobody in their right mind really disputes this. Even the lone person to cast a first-place MVP vote for someone other than James admits this in his defense of Carmelo Anthony as his vote recipient. James was the best. Anthony, Kevin Durant, Chris Paul and the scores of other All-NBA-caliber players on the ballot were a step below. That point is indisputable.
But in Sunday’s hubbub over James’ failure to become the NBA’s first unanimous MVP, and Monday’s indignation that it was a Boston writer, of all people, to have an honest opinion separate from the masses’, there was an underlying current of that tired old debate that haunts every award season in every sport. Everyone seems to have a different definition of “valuable,” and it once again is causing unneeded problems.
“This isn’t the Best Player in the Game award,” Washburn writes. “It’s the Most Valuable Player award, and I think what Anthony accomplished this season was worthy of my vote. He led the Knicks to their first division title in 19 years. That’s a long time. Anthony led the league in scoring average and basically carried an old Knicks team to the No. 2 seed in the Eastern Conference.
“Amar’e Stoudemire missed most of the season with knee issues, Raymond Felton missed six weeks, and Tyson Chandler dealt with nagging injuries, leaving Anthony, J.R. Smith, and a bunch of lottery picks from the mid-1990s to win 54 games and beat the Miami Heat three times.”
My vote, if I had one, would have gone to James. As I have said and written many times before, the concept of “value” is really not subjective to me. My go-to example is that the most valuable diamond in the world is the most valuable diamond, no matter its relative worth in relation to the owner’s wealth. It does not become less valuable simply by belonging to a person who is already rich, just as James does not become less valuable simply by being on a team that is already great.
Washburn’s definition of “value” is different, though. Chances are, even among all the analysts loudly arguing in James’ favor, their definitions of value differ slightly as well. This why there has never been a unanimous MVP in the 68-year history of the NBA. It is hard to come to unanimity on a choice when there is no unanimity on the criteria. The deliberate vagueness leads to endless debate, faux outrage and columnists writing columns to defend their choice — or, in this case, columnists writing columns to defend the choice of columnists writing columns to defend their choice.
Through it all, the NBA wins, because its sport remains in the conversation just as the weather is warming up and fans are tempted to turn their attention to baseball. James wins, too. Regardless of the final vote tally, he is now the proud owner of four MVP trophies. One more and he ties Michael Jordan and Bill Russell for the second-most all-time, behind Kareem Abdul-Jabbar‘s six.
None of those guys won the MVP award unanimously, either. Yet there is no asterisk next to their names in the record books and each trophy takes up the same amount of space on its shelf. No matter the vote tally, Russell, Abdul-Jabbar and Jordan were indisputably the most valuable diamonds of their time. James, unanimous or not, is a rare gem himself.
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