The MVP TrophyThere has been a LOT of debate the past couple of weeks around who is most deserving of the MVP. A lot of it is biased rubbish, some of it is plain wrong, and a small amount speaks the truth. That’s no different to the usual mix of debate that goes on for any sports-related topic in the media, but the MVP holds a special place in my heart. I have come to be a skeptic of the MVP award over the past five years, owing mainly to the fact that the people I feel were most deserving have not won it. Quite simply, the MVP award in the NBA is a farce. I’ve ranted a lot about its meaning (or lack of) over the years, mostly on the TrashTalk forums and on some of the early podcasts, but thanks to the MVP media hooplah reaching fever pitch these last few days, I think it’s time for my rant to be revived. I have a few problems with the MVP award:

1. The complete lack of clarity over the proper criteria for the award. If that sounds like a mouthful, I’m basically saying its difficult to define what “most valuable” means. It is open to complete interpretation, which is fine, as you don’t want an award that can be measured by numbers or stats. But there are so many ways to define “most valuable” that the 125 voting media members might have 125 different ideas about what they’re voting for. To illustrate this point I go back to an article Ric Bucher wrote for ESPN a couple of years ago (and I’m not sure how this got past the ESPN sensors):

All the fuss about who is deserving and who isn’t and what makes for an MVP and what doesn’t is akin to debating what length of skirt turns a girl from sexy to a slut. No one ever has defined it and no one ever will. You eyeball the evidence and decide based on your personal tastes.

THe MVP Debate2. That’s where my second problem lies. I don’t like the idea about the media making a decision “based on personal tastes”. The fact that Ric (an MVP voter) likens the MVP debate to eyeballing a short-skirted slut is also alarming, but he gets kudos points for using the word “slut” and “MVP” in the same sentence without sounding like a perverted freak (or maybe he does? Either way I’m ok with it). Media members have all kinds of pre-conceived notions and agendas that they expound and exaggerate in their articles and on TV. There are guys that are convinced Nash is an undeserving two-time MVP, or that think Dirk is a hopeless choker, or think Lebron can’t defend, or that still hate Kobe for being a cocky teenager. I know these guys (and gals) exist because I read their articles every day and these are the guys voting on the Most Valuable Player award! Now I know it’s only human to have these kind of biased opinions and urges – I’m sure as hell not suggesting we get the crooked NBA refs to decide MVP – but it does bring me to my next problem…

3. Why the hell do media members vote on this award? Letting members of the sports media vote for the MVP is a terrible idea. Why? Here’s one reason:

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and another…

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And yes, Charles Barkley did actually say the “New Orleans Heat”. Now I don’t mean to be ragging on TNT or ESPN (even though sometimes it seems like ESPN is being “run by a bunch of children” as Ron Burgundy put it) but most of the NBA media I know are either 1) completely clueless (see Exhibit B) or 2) idiots (see Exhibit A). Yet these are the guys deciding the fate of the most decorated individual accolade in the sport of basketball (remember that up until 1979-80 the MVP award was voted on by the players themselves – I wonder why that changed?). Yes I understand that broadcasters and journalists see a lot of NBA games, probably courtside, and might be in a great position to comment on who is/isn’t a great player. But hell, we already let them vote for the All-NBA Teams, the Defensive Player of the Year, the 6th Man Award, the Rookie of the Year and the Most Improved Award. You know what is missing from that list? The All-NBA Defensive Team. Media members don’t vote on that – coaches do. You know why? Because when it comes to naming great defensive players, the media have no clue. Proof of that is how wrong they get the voting for the Defensive Player of the Year (DPOY) Award. Read on…

Shawn Marion looking for votesEveryone knows that last year Marcus Camby was named the DPOY, and it wasn’t even close – he won with over twice as many votes as second place-getter Bruce Bowen. What everyone doesn’t know is that Marcus Camby was only one vote – ONE VOTE – away from missing out entirely on the All-NBA Defensive First Team. In fact, when you take into account 1st place votes only, Camby was actually voted fourth highest by the coaches, behind Bowen, Duncan, Kobe and Big Ben. But it doesn’t end there. Shawn Marion, who was touted as a DPOY favourite (by the media) all season long, finished 4th in DPOY voting but DIDN’T EVEN MAKE THE ALL NBA DEFENSIVE 1st OR 2nd TEAM! How can the media get it that wrong? Raja Bell was the other guard who made the All NBA Defensive 1st Team, as voted by the coaches. That is, he was judged the second best defensive guard (to Kobe) in the league by the guys who have to watch their best offensive players struggle night in and night out thanks to these ball pests. You know how many votes he got from the well-informed NBA media? Out of a possible 1560 total votes that were awarded, Raja Bell received… wait for it… 2. That is only two more votes than Brian Scalabrine received and he doesn’t even know how to play defense.

In case you hadn’t noticed I have a little more respect for the opinions of the coaches (and players) in this league rather than the fickle and extremely impressionable media. I’m not sure if the journos are aware of it, but by writing and hyping the MVP award from different angles during the season (see problem #2) they actually create their own cesspool of meaningless drivel that starts to feed back on themselves. In other words, they start believing their own bullshit. I’m firmly convinced that if enough NBA journalists start writing similar articles to sell a certain player’s case for winning an award they will actually make it happen. Like back in ‘04 when the Pacers campaigned so hard to get Ron Artest the DPOY that the media actually started to believe it, and was quoting stats created especially by Pacers assistant staff to make Artest look good. (This is fact – Rick Carlisle, then Indiana’s coach, actually made “personal phone calls to voting members and had two assistants break down film of Artest’s 8,000 defensive possessions to give him quantifiable statistics to make his case”. The funny thing is, that was Ben Wallace’s best defensive year EVER yet it was the only year within a 5-year span that he didn’t win the award).

Ron Artest and George Bush - both unintelligent people

Or like all the media hype in 04-05 about the unlikely chances of a short, white, long-haired Canadian guy being MVP when Shaq should have won for turning the Heat into championship favourites. Or when in 05-06 it was all about “Could he?! Could Nash go back-to-back and re-write the history books?!”. Well shit when I started reading that half way through the season I knew it was over, despite Kobe having the most ridiculous individual season most of us will see in a long time. Ironically the same self-feeding media garbage was Nash’s undoing last year – “there’s just NO way he can win three straight MVPs… impossible, Larry Bird did it and Nash is no Larry Bird.. he hasn’t even won a title!” – even though Nash had his best season of all three years (in my opinion) and should have been handed the trophy in retrospect after Dirk grew a vagina in the playoffs.

I guess what I’m trying to say is that MVP voters seem to get confused in voting for the best story (i.e the one that sells most newspapers/gets better ratings) rather than the best player. Thankfully some of the media recognise this themselves, even John Hollinger (one of my least favourite media guys) who said this earlier in the season:

Writers do what they do because they have an eye for great stories and love to tell them. But when they look for an MVP, I think sometimes that gets intertwined with the selection process. In other words, they hear “most valuable” but think to themselves “best story.” The most egregious example was probably in 2002, when Jason Kidd going to the Nets and winning the East was undeniably a *great* story … and nearly resulted in an indefensible vote of him over Tim Duncan for MVP [Robd note: John has reverted to his clueless ways here, this was not an indefensible vote; Kidd was completely robbed of the MVP award that season]. Look at almost any other bad MVP vote and you can make a similar case — Barkley going to Phoenix and winning big was a huge story, but it didn’t make him better than Jordan. Same goes for Nash [last year].”

So what is happening this year? Well, the big story early on in the season (and the easiest to sell) was how much of a dramatic impact KG had on the Celtics, and how no one could touch his MVP throne if the Celtics went on to win 70 games. We then got side-tracked when Dwight Howard started eating 30-20 games for breakfast and forced everyone to take the Orlando Magic seriously (even though KG still clearly doesn’t – “We know that the Eastern Conference is going to be won by [one of] three teams”. Hint: the Magic are not one of those teams). Then Kobe occupied the MVP spotlight for a few weeks while he and Andrew Bynum started tearing up the league, putting them on path to their best post-Shaq season ever before talks of a Gasol trade even started. Somewhere along the way people started realising that Chris Paul was having an MVP-type season and that the Hornets were not a fluke – the All-Star selections of Paul and David West a clear tribute to this. All the way through there were people who thought Lebron was a lock for MVP thanks to his mammoth effort in shouldering a Cavs team that looked worse than last season, and a stat line that edges closer and closer to Jordan’s previously-thought untouchable 1988-89 season.

The MVP Race so far has been between these guys

It is very intruiging how it has all played out and I’ve been keeping a very close eye on the MVP race, because in case you hadn’t noticed, I find the whole thing a little absurd and almost pre-meditated. I even read that stupid Race to the MVP feature on every week which is possibly the most pointless feature have ever produced (which is saying something because they’ve come up with some seriously pointless features). This from the current rankings (6th March):

[Lebron] James averages more points, rebounds and assists than Bryant and he shoots at a higher percentage. Cleveland’s record and the fact that he plays in the East are the only two factors that can prevent him from being named MVP.”

This is exactly the kind of crap I’m talking about that goes back to problem #1. Why the hell is Lebron prevented from winning the MVP because of Cleveland’s record and the fact he plays in the East?! I’m so amazed by the complete lack of logic in this statement that it makes me want to punch somebody. Who decided these bullshit rules? What, the Cavs 48-50 wins isn’t good enough for Lebron to be judged Most Valuable? Can I suggest that maybe without Lebron that 48-50 wins would be more like 10? And how does the conference have anything to do with it?! Last time I checked Lebron still plays against every team in the league, most at least twice. But yeah Maurice Brooks is right, “I’m sorry Lebron, you would have won the MVP award but you play for the wrong conference… sorry mate… if you had just played for someone like Memphis or Seattle you would have had a great chance”. What about KG? He’s also in the East and a legit favourite for MVP. Does the fact that Boston will end up with 60 wins negate the anti-East rule? Does his extra 10 wins over Lebron make up for it? What about if it was 8 wins? Or 6? Maybe 5? Does the anti-East rule work if you get 55 wins? Just checking because I’m not sure…

I know I’m playing a little of devil’s advocate here, but rarely do I hear an opinion from a media member about the MVP award that makes sense. So I thought I’d put on my Maurice Brooks hat and do a little of my own R2TMVP, while trying to avoid my three Most Valuable Problems:
#1 - the stupid “unspoken rules” that have sprung up the past few years that seem to rule out certain, very deserving MVP candidates
#2 - without going on my gut-feeling, without bias, and only taking to account the entire season (rather than patches of brilliance from certain players that seem to make an everlasting impression on some people)
#3 - without coming from a media member who is both a) trying to make headlines and b) voting on the award themselves

Stay tuned to TrashTalk. In the next week or so I’ll drop my top 10 MVP votes, and I’ll come back at the end of the regular season to submit my ballot. Who knows, maybe someone from the voting media will read my blog and change their mind? I can only hope, or else we might have another MVP(roblem) on our hands.

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