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Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Hard Work Pays Off: LeBron James Wins His First NBA MVP

LeBron James has won the 2009 NBA MVP, receiving 109 of a possible 121 first place votes to easily outdistance 2008 MVP Kobe Bryant and 2009 scoring champion Dwyane Wade. James received 1172 out of a possible 1210 points, while Bryant had 698 points (including two first place votes) and Wade had 680 points (including seven first place votes). Dwight Howard (328 points, one first place vote) and Chris Paul (192 points, two first place votes) placed fourth and fifth respectively; no other players received a first place vote or tallied more than 33 points.

James is a rare person who has actually not only met but exceeded all of the hype surrounding him. Cleveland Cavaliers assistant coach Chris Jent says that many people "just see the fantastic plays and his God-given ability. They don't understand that there were kinks in the armor and he wanted to figure them out. He wanted to straighten them out and he wanted to be better and the only way to do it is by working. When things are going good he works and when things are going bad he works harder." In the past few years, I have mentioned those "kinks in the armor"--defense, free throw shooting, midrange shooting, three point shooting--in various articles and maintained that Kobe Bryant was the best player in the NBA because he had no skill set weaknesses; that led some misinformed people to suggest that I harbor some kind of bias toward Bryant but James understood better than anyone that he needed to work on his weaknesses and he has pretty much eliminated every one of them (his midrange game still needs some work). James' improvement and the fact that he led the Cavs to the best record in the NBA convinced me that he deserved to win this year's MVP.

At 24 years, 106 days old, James is the youngest NBA MVP since Moses Malone, who was 24 years, 16 days old in 1979 when he won the first of his three MVPs. Wes Unseld remains the youngest NBA MVP ever, capturing the honor as a 23 year old rookie in 1969. Spencer Haywood (20, 1969) and Artis Gilmore (22, 1972) are the two youngest MVPs in ABA/NBA history; they both won the award as rookies in the ABA. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (23, 1971--NBA), Bob McAdoo (23, 1975--NBA), Wilt Chamberlain (23, 1960--NBA, rookie) and Bob Pettit (23, 1956--NBA) are the only other players in ABA/NBA history who won an MVP prior to turning 24 (several other players won MVPs in the year that they turned 24, including Julius Erving in 1974 in the ABA and Abdul-Jabbar in 1972 in the NBA).

Although this year the MVP voters managed to select the correct top five players in the proper order, when one delves into the vote totals some oddities emerge: one voter completely left Bryant off of his ballot and two voters left Wade completely off of their ballots, meaning that these voters did not rank Bryant and Wade respectively among the top five MVP contenders. Eight voters placed Bryant fourth and two voters selected him fifth. I consider James and Bryant to be in a class by themselves at the moment: no one other than Wade matches them from a skill set standpoint and James and Bryant enjoy a size advantage over Wade. Therefore, it is hard for me to understand how someone can place Bryant lower than second, let alone leave him off of the ballot entirely. Similarly, Wade's individual excellence this year should have earned him a top five vote on every ballot.

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posted by David Friedman @ 1:52 AM


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At Tuesday, May 05, 2009 7:02:00 PM, Blogger JLK said...

There was an interesting conversation on TNT about the MVP award, and they were looking back, and Kenny Smith made the observation that Kobe Bryant was the best player in the NBA for the last several years, even in years where he didn't win the award.

A related point was made when the panel was asked how many MVPs they expected LeBron James to win. Charles Barkley went with 5, but Kenny expects only 3 because of expectations. He predicted a Bryant like effect with James where after he wins 2 or 3 awards people start to take him for granted. Will be interesting to see how that plays out.

At Wednesday, May 06, 2009 11:19:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...


I saw that discussion. LeBron is more popular with the media voters than Kobe (which is not to say that LeBron did not deserve the MVP this year--he certainly did deserve it) and I think that if LeBron stays healthy he has an excellent chance to tie or even break Kareem's record of six MVPs.

At Wednesday, May 06, 2009 2:16:00 PM, Blogger madnice said...

The MVP and all awards are a joke. Jordan should have at least 7. Bryant should have at least 3. The media are hypocritical in their analysis all the time.

At Wednesday, May 06, 2009 4:08:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...


Yes, Barkley and Malone each won MVPs that should have gone to MJ, while Kobe should have won MVPs in 2006 and 2007 in addition to the one he did win in 2008.


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