With the NBA's last two MVPs facing each other on Christmas Day, The Race wonders where exactly that honor fits into the pantheon of accomplishments for Los Angeles Lakers star Kobe Bryant, particularly since he is playing at a level that regularly prompts the Staples Center faithful to chant in unison for him.
Apparently, winning the award means more to the fans than it does to Bryant.
"It never mattered to me," Bryant said flatly.
After all, it is the stark pronouncement that at least for a six-month stretch, you are the best player in the world, bar none.
"That wasn't the challenge for me," Bryant said of the MVP. "The challenge for me was could I elevate everybody around me. Individually, all my peers -- whose opinions I value the most -- all my peers consider me a great player. So that was enough.
"But the challenge was could I elevate a group of guys to win a championship. The MVP award, even though I hadn't won one -- and people say maybe I should have won it this year, maybe I should have won it that year -- became inconsequential. The real challenge was getting this team to the top."
The Race wonders whether Bryant could say the same thing had he not received the award following the 2007-08 season. It certainly is easier to dismiss an achievement after having accomplished it than it is if it remains the carrot after which one is chasing.
For the record, The Race thought Bryant should have won the MVP award after he went for 81 points on Jan. 22, 2006 and averaged a career-high 35.4 points. That was the year Steve Nash won his second straight MVP. That Bryant had to wait another two years to receive his first MVP is incredible.
"That just kind of happened," Bryant said. "I had a great team and great guys here. We gelled and bonded and the MVP ended up being a byproduct of that."
Last Week's Rank - 2
Is there anything more revealing than a head-to-head matchup to settle any dispute about who is better? Sure, it's not foolproof. But the Cavaliers' victory over the Lakers on Christmas Day was sound enough that it allows LeBron to leapfrog Kobe into the top spot -- even if Kobe happened to have slightly better stats. The Cavaliers have won eight of their past nine games and LeBron had his 26th career triple-double against Sacramento on Wednesday night; he is one of only 12 players in league history with 25 career trip-dubs.
Last Week's Rank - 1
What The Race really wants to see is Kobe guard LeBron. And vice versa. Granted, the Lakers got Ron Artest for a reason. But still, nothing like a little one on one to be able to declare a true Best in Show. And do you get the feeling that Kobe almost scoffs at Shaquille O'Neal now, as if that argument is too beneath him to even entertain. Kobe, by the way, had his 102nd 40-point game this week, against the Thunder. Only Michael Jordan and Wilt Chamberlain have more 40-point games.
Last Week's Rank - 5
We've got a little movement in The Race this week. That's what happens when El Capitan grabs 20 rebounds in three of his last four games, plus averages more than four blocks a game in that same stretch. His five-point, seven-turnover Christmas Day game notwithstanding, Howard is asserting himself, grabbing double-digit rebounds in 19 of the last 21 games.
Last Week's Rank - 7
In the overall scheme, Roy likely will not end the season this high. But the guy has been incredible in the face of vast adversity, the Blazers losing both their starting center and their backup center to leg injuries. All the while, Roy keeps playing his heart out, going for 41 on Christmas Day to will the Blazers to a victory over Denver and give Portland its fifth win in six games. The guy fills the stat sheet on a nightly basis -- plus he's a good guy.
Last Week's Rank - 6
Speculation is rampant throughout the league that Chris Bosh is going to end up in Miami next season. Can you imagine this guy with a legitimate post player off whom to play? He could be like, well, Wade when he had Shaq and they won a title together. Wade averaged 29 points and 6.6 assists this past week, with Miami having won four of its last five.
Last Week's Rank - 3
Not sure what is happening in Denver, but the Nuggets have lost three of their past four, and Anthony has been well below his league-leading average of 30.4 points a game in two of those four losses. Granted, he stepped aside to watch J.R. Smith go for 41 against Atlanta on Wednesday night, the only win in that stretch, but Melo seems to have hit the holiday blues. He'll be back, we have no doubt.
Last Week's Rank - 4
The Race hates to drop a guy in the standings due to injury, but they are a reality in the NBA and have to be taken into account - even if they involve a pair of teeth needing to be pulled from a guy's arm. Seriously, who got the worst of that deal, Houston's Carl Landry, who lost the teeth, or Nowitzki, who had to have them removed from his elbow? Still, after skipping a game, Nowitzki returned to go for 27 points and nine rebounds against Portland.
Last Week's Rank - 8
He has not been exceptional of late, nor has his team, though he remains one of the best players in the league simply because he can control a game like nobody else on this list. If you can believe this, Nash's numbers (18.1 points, 11.3 assists) are actually better this year than they were in the years that he won back-to-back MVP awards -- and he doesn't have nearly the talent around him to exploit. Plus, he is shooting the ball better than he ever has in his career.
Last Week's Rank - 9
At the very least, the guy cemented himself as the favorite for rookie of the year by going for 24 points and seven rebounds against Milwaukee's Brandon Jennings, including hitting the game-winner. Evans should be getting back Kevin Martin soon, and it'll be interesting to see how those two fare together now that Evans has established himself as a star in the league.
Last Week's Rank - n/a
This spot is a revolving door of the remaining talent in the league, and Durant supplants Tim Duncan simply because The Race thinks Durant is a more explosive player -- though that could change by next week. Durant's 38 points in a win over Phoenix on Wednesday is evidence enough that he is one of the best in the league, and should be for years to come. The Race wonders if he'll continue his career in Oklahoma City or if he'll ultimately wind up somewhere else.