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NBA MVP: LeBron being denied unanimous win means it's time for a change

May 2, 2010, 10:45 PM EDT

Well, the worst kept secret of the year is out, and LeBron has his second MVP award.

We could wax on here about his season, the dominant play from baseline to baseline, the chasedown blocks, the versatility, the improved shooting numbers across the floor, the physical prowess, the, well, everything. LeBron James is the best player in the NBA, and it’s clear.

Or at least it should be.

Look, it’s a subjective award, and there are a million ways to interpret its parameters. Best player. Best player on best team. Most outstanding player. Most valuable to his team’s success. Greatest impact on the floor. However you want to interpret it. And at the end of the day, it’s just an award, and doesn’t mean much to those without a ring.

But if we’re going to hold this award up as a symbol of respect, to recognize what is widely accepted outside of NBA-centric circles as an indication of the best basketball player on the planet for a given season, the NBA and its media partners need to give the voting process the respect it deserves.

116 out of the 122 voters plus the 1 vote by the fans through online vote voted for LeBron James in first place. The other seven? They constitute a viable line of reasoning for a revamping of the vote process.

There are plenty of reasons why these seven voters elected to vote the way they did. Some of the votes were likely the result of something our own Ira Winderman touched on a few days ago, namely that many of these votes go to team personnel (radio and television play-by-play), and many to beat writers who only see one team consistently.

But if we truly want to have the best voting process we can, we’re going to need to make changes to who votes and how. Many have argued as our Rob Mahoney has that the process needs to open to public record. But I have no doubt that some of the seven would defend their vote publicly if forced to.

After all, FanHouse’s Tim Povtak wrote that James did not deserve the award because he chose to rest in pursuit of a championship. And he backed up that threat. So in this instance we have an agenda-driven vote, if that was the reason Povtak voted for Howard. I respect Povtak tremendously as a writer and value the fact that he and I both write for FanHouse, though my contributions are in a lesser role. Povtak lives and covers Orlando, but the vote was a statement against the act of a player resting to end the regular season. A fine sentiment, but is voting for this award, which helps determine a player’s legacy and Hall of Fame criteria the right forum to take such a stand?  (This is all before you factor in the fact as Kevin Harlan first commented on James’ elbow on April 9th after a regular season game in Chicago, meaning that James’ rest could be considered completely justified.)

In an email, Povtak replied that he genuinely felt that Howard made more of an impact at both ends of the floor, and as it is not solely an offensive award, he felt like Howard was the best vote. If that’s honestly how Povtak thought, given the attention he gives to the entire league, it’s a valid one. The possibility that such a vote could have been cast, though, remains a dangerous possibility given the impact the award has on a player’s legacy.

Even if you feel that James’ resting of the regular season was “cowardly,” surely the phenomenal season he had, the impact on the Cavaliers, his position as best player on the best team record-wise, his performance in the clutch, and astounding numbers would lead you to vote otherwise… IF the vote itself was more valuable than what you say with it. But as it currently stands, the league takes a very hands-off approach.

It doles out the votes to PR departments and lets them decide. And in doing so, they allow for the voters to vote based on whatever criteria they wish. If they want to vote based on the fact that they don’t feel players over 7 feet should be considered, they can. And did, apparently, give the fact that only 86 voters had Dwight Howard in the top three. They can vote to simply get a guy some recognition, as one voter did with Stephen Jackson as a fifth place vote. Manu Ginobili received a fourth place vote.

To be honest, I don’t see any problem with making your fifth choice based on whatever criteria you decide. The top vote is what matters most, obviously. And the second and third can really be the difference. If after voting for the four players who you honestly and objectively saw as the MVP, feel free to lobby for whatever unheralded player you’d like. But those top votes? They need to be for the players you decided was the best by whatever measure you chose, and not influenced by personal bias or agenda. You want to throw someone a single point vote? Go for it. But those top five need to be based on the evidence of who was the best, by whatever measure you choose. You want the MVP to remain subjective? Use whatever criteria you want. But any reasonable criteria still would have resulted with the selection of LeBron James this year. I say this as a someone who most often elects to pull for the underdog and who rarely agrees with the consensus.

Maybe the writers genuinely felt that LeBron wasn’t best. After all, David Steele went that route,  But then, almost all of his reasons are easily applicable to LeBron. And while Dwight Howard is a better defender than James, the gap between Dwight’s offense and LeBron’s is far wider than that between James’ defense and Howard’s, particularly when Howard is fouling his way to the bench every thirty five seconds.

But I digress. If you honestly felt that James wasn’t the MVP, you’re likely responding to local bias, but at least you’re not acting in the pursuit of something other than the correct selection of the MVP. If you feel another player deserves attention for his contributions, feel free to make such a selection as the fifth vote. But don’t confuse “underrated MVP” with “actual MVP as in the real MVP who should win the MVP.”

The issue is that if you are granted a vote in the MVP race, even though it’s a subjective award, it does have enough of an impact on a career to warrant giving the vote the consideration it deserves. And that requires considerable knowledge of the entire league, and an honest act without bias. Is it possible that those that live and work with Orlando covering the Magic simply thought Howard was superior having watched him night in and out? Absolutely. But isn’t it more likely that if the writers were to reside in the state of Ohio that their votes might differ?

It’s also interesting the gap that exists between those that work every day, focused on a particular team, but absorbed in basketball, and those who devote their free time to the league. As an example, when queried on Twitter, the author of Orlando Pinstriped Post, an Orlando Magic blog that receives over 100,000 pageviews per month as part of SBNation said that if given a vote, he would have voted LeBron first.  So an author of a blog with no professional obligation to maintain objectivity, though it is credentialed, would elect to vote for James. Because he was the
best player.

An
other example is Royce Young of DailyThunder.com, which covers the Thunder. Young covers the Thunder with a fan-centric voice, while carrying out what can only be considered new journalism, with a blogger’s approach through journalism’s lens. And while he authored a thesis for why Durant would be worthy of an MVP vote, he also concurred, the vote must be for James

This isn’t conclusive proof by any means, but it’s an indication that while blogs continue to be considered beneath certain members of the media, it may be time to consider their inclusion in the voting process. Kelly Dwyer of Ball Don’t Lie was recently given a vote, in a rare stroke of progressiveness towards internet media. The core of this is that the votes should be given to those who have a deep respect and interest in authentically selecting the Most Valuable Player. There’s nothing wrong with not considering the vote that big of a deal, what with life’s demands, and a grueling grind of a job. But the vote itself has to maintain legitimacy, and to do that, not only must bias be removed from consideration (while subjective opinion remains), but a full and complete perspective of the league and its players must be factored in.

Another part of Winderman’s argument was that there are only so many people who can be given votes, and as a result, some may not value the result of the voting as much as the power of their own vote. But in this day and age, with so many more intelligent writers contributing to the discussion and anlaysis of basketball, is it possible that it’s time for an overhaul of the voting system? Do we need to rely on people’s whose livelihoods depend on the team?

This is not to say that a blogger such as myself should be given a vote. The arguments against younger, more inexperienced writers are sound ones. And yet, the strengths of experience can be nullified by the tunnel vision of team-centrism and professional or moral agenda. There is a middle-ground that must be balanced between experience and perspective. 

This isn’t to say that the system itself is broken. After all, 116 writers did get it right.  And again, it’s not to say that there won’t be variety in voting which is a good thing. A plurality of opinions is a good thing in any field, especially in that of the MVP voting. And both Kevin Durant and Dwight Howard (and sure, why not, third place Kobe Bryant) deserve consideration. They had tremendous seasons and are absolutely worthy of a 2nd or 3rd place vote. But in considering all the facts, given James’ statistical domination by any measure, given the Cavs performance, given his impact at both ends of the floor and the sheer complete nature of his game and the level to which he excels in all those areas, James was the only choice.

Dissenting opinions only carry weight when they’re built from a conviction of truth, not simply to force a sense of controversy or carry an agenda. It’s entirely possible that the seven voters who elected to have James 2nd or 3rd merely carried strong, well reasoned convictions to that end. It’s also likely that they did not.

Change is needed.

Update 12:57AM: Sean Keely of SBNation.com notes that two of Howard’s three first place votes along with Povtak include the above-mentioned David Steele who works for the Magic as does the other voter, John Denton of orlandomagic.com.

  1. Anonymous - May 2, 2010 at 11:09 PM

    Someone disagrees with you?
    Then, I guess it’s time to make long-winded blog posts decreeing that the system must be changed so that everyone shares your opinion in the future.

  2. Gordon - May 2, 2010 at 11:16 PM

    Regardless of who gets the MVP – I think you should wait until the end of the entire season to award it. James got it last year and didn’t even make the finals. Duh! If he is so great then why didn’t his team get the ring. If you wait until the final game is played, the final score tallied and then the selection – you will get it right. As far as last year – the MVP Trophy was misplaced. No doubt that James was amazing but not the best – he didn’t reach the final and get the ring. Until that happens Kobe Bryant is still the pick and will continue to be as long as they hold the trophy at the end. As far a Dwight Howard is concerned. Not a close second even. He plays half the game on the bench in foul trouble. How can you be valuable if you are warming the bench. Now that doesn’t compute. Still MVP – Kobe Bryant.

  3. Mega - May 2, 2010 at 11:33 PM

    Gordon – obviously a Lakers fan – LeBron dominated last year, and won the regular season MVP for being the best player during the regular season.
    Did you know that in the finals they award a finals MVP? I believe that Kobe won that last season, and if his Lakers were to win again this year, I’d suggest he’d win it again.
    You are a moronic fool my man, and really need to think about what you’re writing before you type it. I’m an Aussie, and still know more about your game than you do – get a clue buddy.

  4. Anonymous - May 2, 2010 at 11:39 PM

    What conviction of truth? That in itself is subjective. So there should be plenty of posts/arguments on Howard not even getting on 2 dpoy voting ballot slips?
    Voting is opinionated. That much is certain. Just because King James is the King does not mean everyone ought to bow, pay homage. Look at Shaq, he missed by one but he is still the MVP.
    Legacy for James is two-peat straight MVPs, now he’s got to get the rings to back them up. Moot point if he doesnt bring the Cavs to the title.

  5. LaHug - May 3, 2010 at 6:25 AM

    I’m a Lakers fan and I honestly believe that Kobe Bryant is the best player in the world. BUT, he did not have a better season than LeBron. I disagree with you, Gordon. The MVP has nothing to do with the post-season; it’s an award for the best player of the regular season. LeBron’s Cavs had the best record, LeBron had amazing stats, LeBron had an amazing offensive season and LeBron, although overrated on the defensive end, had a great defensive season as well. Kobe may have been (emphasis on “may”) the best player if he didn’t have so many injuries, but that’s how the season panned out and LeBron had an injury free, amazing season. That’s what happened and that’s why he deserved the award.
    In terms of the blog, I disagree that LeBron should get a unanimous first vote. Sure, he was clearly the best, but voters have a right to vote how they want to. As long as the best wins in the end, all is good.

  6. DMAC - May 3, 2010 at 7:51 AM

    Lebron won the award, but I don’t see why he should have won it unanimously. There are simply too many great players. I’m actually surprised he received so many votes. Kobe certainly deserves consideration, but so do many others. Nash in Phoenix, Williams in Utah, Carmelo in Denver, Durant in Oklahoma, Howard in Orlando, Wade in Miami. All of these players and several more should receive at least some consideration, and if anything this article should be focusing on how amazing it is that James won in a landslide…116 out of 123 votes is pretty darn amazing. Congrats to James, but I also tip my cap to about a dozen others who rightfully should have received at least some consideration and a vote or two for MVP.

  7. JA - May 3, 2010 at 8:14 AM

    There were a ton of great stories in the NBA this year, and a ton of great players. But unlike most years, the discussion for MVP started and stopped with LBJ. Howard, while good still isn’t great. He does not domminate a game like LBJ. Quite honestly, I don’t think he should have won Defensive player of the Year either. First off he plays center on a team that has only one rebounder, so of course he is going to get a ton of boards, the system he plays in is designed for that. Take him out of the line-up for a month and watch Gortat swallow 12 boards a game. That is how the system is designed in Orlando. How many great centers are there in the East? Shaq used to be…anyone else? So he hardly has to defend a person straight up night in and night out, and can roam the lane and alter shots and block them. To me that is simple. Switch Camby and Howard. I bet Camby has more blocks and more boards in that system then Howard does. DPOY should go to a wing play most years. Look at Pierce for instance…he has to try and stop james one night, Joe Johnson the next, then drop Kobe in his lap, vince carter in two nights…that is playing defense. Guys like Pierce, James, Kobe, Wade and others play a ton more defense than Howard. James is and should be MVP. Next year will be difficult especially with the improvement in Durrant and OKC…but if James goes out and averages the same numbers or slightly better he will win three.

  8. Alex - May 3, 2010 at 8:37 AM

    The real issue is that some people voted LeBron third. If you honestly thought Durant or Howard or Kobe was a better MVP this season, ok – you’re wrong, but it’s possible to make an argument maybe. There is just no argument whatsoever that two players had better seasons than LeBron this year. None whatsoever. If Shaq didn’t win unanimously, then clearly LeBron won’t in an era with Howard/Durant/Kobe unless he averages a triple double or something.
    But really, whoever voted two players ahead of LeBron needs to not have a vote. There’s no excuse for that.

  9. hemlock09 - May 3, 2010 at 10:50 AM

    what solves all of this is accountability. i dont have a problem with someone voting for someone other than lbj, but they should have to state why publicly. id definitely take the responsibility of voting if it meant i had to defend my pick publicly. i think anybody not willing to do that shouldnt get a vote.
    also, i think there should be a test. if you dont know what per or adj plus minus is, you shouldnt be allowed to vote. statistics have proven that what you view with the naked eye, especially when you mostly watch just one team, can be misleading. if you can’t back up nebulous, subjective claims with some kind of authority, you’re no longer part of the conversation. there’s too many experts now to assume just because someone’s a beat writer they’re good at evaluating basketball value. that’s been proven categorically false by all the bad player/gms who are horrible at talent evaluation.

  10. Jesse - May 3, 2010 at 2:38 PM

    Yes, MVP voting needs some tweaking. Politicans’ voting records are public so they can be held accountable. Why shouldn’t someone who gave Stephen Jackson a vote have to explain himself?

  11. CaptFamous - May 3, 2010 at 5:37 PM

    DMAC – You list a bunch of players there: Which one would you vote for? Most voters likely had a list of reasonable candidates like that, and then they picked one. That is what the All-NBA team is for. There is only one MVP.

  12. Anonymous - May 4, 2010 at 10:29 AM

    Most Valuable Player has become the equivalent of “Best Offensive Player.” Which James certainly is.
    But let’s not pretend for a second that your claim that the gap between James’ defense and Howard’s is closer than the gap between James’ offense and Howard’s.
    Orlando is the best defensive team in the league, and the reason for that is squarely on Howard. People like to talk about Barnes and Pietrus, and Van Gundy’s defensive schemes (all of whom are factors), but those are all minor factors at best compared to Howard’s defense. One player literally takes a team from being mediocre at best defensively to the best defensive team in the league.
    James, on the other hand, relies on picking off weak side blocks for his “defensive dominance.” Not that he isn’t defensively skilled, but Dwyane Wade does the exact same thing on a regular basis, as do a number of good shooting guards / small forwards.
    The bottom line is that MVP is given to the best offensive player, not the best player over all. If it wasn’t, you might see more first place votes for the player who lead the league in blocks, rebounds, and field goal percentage over this season. Take a quick look at the list of players who have led the league blocks and rebounds twice – it is basically a who’s who of the best basketball players of all time.
    Now consider the fact that Howard is the ONLY PLAYER TO EVER DO THAT IN TWO CONSECUTIVE SEASONS, and that he will likely be doing it for the rest of his career. Howard also led the league in field goal percentage this season. To put it quite bluntly, James is NOT one of the best defensive players of all time, and Howard is. Don’t try to pretend like James and Howard closer in defensive skill than in offensive skill, because Howard outclasses James on the defensive side of the ball AT LEAST as much as James outclasses Howard on offense. Trying to claim that James is in the same league defensively as Chamberlain, Russell, or Olajuwoan is ridiculous – but Howard most definitely is, and the only people who think otherwise are people who do not look at the statistics that clearly show that he is because “their eyes tell them who is the best.”
    Look, James is incredible offensively, don’t get me wrong. But if we are going to just hand the MVP award to the best offensive player every year and assume Dwight Howard shouldn’t get it because “he deserves DPOY instead” then lets just acknowledge that the MVP award is not based on defensive skill. Perhaps we should change the name to “Offensive Player of the Year,” because that is what it really is.

  13. danman - May 4, 2010 at 12:12 PM

    This is a pretty ridiculous article. What would “change” to the voting procedure accomplish? Lebron won the vote 116-6. You don’t get a bigger trophy for winning unanimously.

  14. Kareem - May 12, 2010 at 2:13 PM

    I hope Cavs doesn’t make it to the final this year to prove the point. He’s not the best and he doesn’t really deserved MVP. I think Durant is way better (people keep forgetting that he’s just 21 years of age). People are blinded by media hype. He’s not the best. If you don’t believe me, watch the playoff. Boston going to win against them. But Lakers going to win it again. I guess Kobe still better than him and not many people want to acknowledge that (that’s why he only have one MVP title). Shame on those voters/judges.

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