The NBA has become a league drained of the grace it had once possessed. It has now turned shallow, as individuals often rise above the team and competition is simply lame compared to what it used to be. Simply put, the NBA sucks. The MVP award is now just given to the guy who gets the most triple-doubles and we have known who the two teams in this year’s Finals will be since last year’s ended.
In the 1961-1962 season, Oscar Robertson averaged a triple-double for the entire year, putting up 30.8 points, 12.5 rebounds and 11.4 assists per game. Despite the tremendous stats, the Big O finished just third in MVP voting that season. Maybe it was because he led his Cincinnati Royals to a respectable, but certainly not exceptional, 43-37 record.
Even more impressive than averaging a triple double, Wilt “The Stilt” Chamberlain, who finished second, put up an insane 50.4 points and 25.7 rebounds per game, and I just want to assure you that yes, you certainly did read those stats correctly.
Chamberlain may have very well had the best statistical season ever in 1961-1962, so how in the world did he not win the MVP either?
The answer to that question is, well, neither Robertson nor Chamberlain deserved the award over the guy who won it. The player truly most valuable to his team that year was the rightful man who won the award titled as such: 11-time champion, Bill Russell, whose stats were great, but definitely not as captivating as those of Chamberlain and Robertson.
Russell both deserved and won the award for “backboning” a Boston Celtics team that dominated their way to the league’s best record. And although a player’s playoff performance has never factored into the voting process, Russell proved voters right by playing in almost every minute of both series (both went to seven games) to capture Boston’s fourth of eight consecutive NBA titles.
Let’s fast-forward fifty-five years now: past the days of Magic and Bird and right by the era of Jordan; even through the legendary career of Tim Duncan and the prime years of Dwyane Wade. We now exit our space-time continuum in the 2016-2017 season and let me tell you, if I actually did this, I would be pissed. I would walk out to selfish stars, fancy cars and fire bars, with the ladder referring to Damian Lillard (a.k.a Dame D.O.L.L.A.). But seriously, the selfish stars, many of which are on the same team, have created a statistic-obsessed league without any legitimate competition.
When I brought up Russell, I gave an example of a guy who won the MVP the right way, the old way. So be it, there were other players who made a case in 1961-1962, but the MVP went to the right guy. Nowadays, just because someone has like a billion triple-doubles in a season seems to mean that he should win the MVP. That is a huge problem, which was perfectly shown in the form of a 4-1 series defeat of the Russell Westbrook-led Thunder in the first round of the playoffs. And while Westbrook lost to the team of presumably the only player who stands in his way of the MVP, a win over a six-seed does not mean Harden should win instead.
Like I said before, the playoffs do not matter in the voting process; however, if Harden’s Rockets get beat down by the Spurs, Harden would prove his unsuitability, just as Westbrook did in the first round. In fact, a sound San Antonio defeat of the Rockets would not only expose the voters’ mistake of making Harden the winner; it would also document their error of not selecting the player who truly deserves the award, Kawhi Leonard. The chances of a Spurs win are certainly realistic if not likely, as Leonard, arguably the league’s best defensive player, has had success shutting down Harden in the past.
Despite his age, Tim Duncan was a key piece for the San Antonio Spurs both on and off the court until the day he retired, but when he did decide to call it quits, the Spurs did not miss a beat. Now without Duncan, Leonard led his team to a 61-21 record, which was good for second-place in the Western Conference.
The Spurs seem to be the only poised threat to the Warriors in the West and they are led by the most underrated superstar in the NBA; so underrated that he will most likely finish outside the top-2 for the MVP in a year he deserves to finish in the top-1. Maybe if he went out his way to get triple-doubles, he would have a better shot.
All told, James Harden himself said it best:
“I thought winning was the most important thing. If you set your team up in a position to have a chance, at the ultimate goal, that’s the most important thing.”
Here’s some news: if winning is the most important thing, than yes, Harden would win the award over self-proclaimed, “Mr. Triple-Double,” Russell Westbrook. However, if we are following the same, simple formula, Mr. Harden would fall short to none other than, yes, Kawhi Leonard.
The MVP award will be announced on June 26 after the Cleveland-Golden State Finals rematch that practically no one envisions happening (I know, it will be a real shocker). I can only hope that when the time comes, the right player’s name will be announced; however, the opposite seems to inevitably be in store. Depending on who wins, I am sure we will hear about the frustration of either Harden or Westbrook, but not Kawhi.
For Leonard, his mind will be focused not on what more could he have done to win the MVP, but what can he do to finally escape the same, bottomless pit that the Spurs, along with twenty-seven other teams, fell into just two years ago: how can he lead is team past the Warriors and Cavaliers.
It is certainly unfair for the fourth-youngest Finals MVP in league history, but those were merely the cards he was dealt. That’s just what happens when almost half the world’s top-15 players are split between two other teams. All Leonard can do is continue to have the mind of an MVP, which in today’s NBA, only a few players have.