By Rob Peterson, NBA.com
Posted Jun 13 2009 10:59AM
ORLANDO -- With the Lakers up 3-1 against the Magic, it's time to start thinking about who should win the Bill Russell NBA Finals Most Valuable Player Award.
Right now, only one name comes to mind.
Before we get to that name, however, let's crack open the history books. The NBA has been holding this little end-of-the-season shindig since 1947, but has only handed out Finals MVP hardware since 1969.
Here's the interesting thing about that first Finals MVP award: It was Russell's last chance to win it. And he didn't. But another legend from the losing team did.
Russell, then the Boston Celtics player-coach, had already led the Celtics to an amazing 10 titles in 12 seasons. But now, the aging Celtics dynasty was on it's last, weary legs and faced their longtime West Division nemesis: the Los Angeles Lakers, who had acquired Russell's longtime foil, Wilt Chamberlain from the Philadelphia 76ers before the 1968-69. Teamed with a dangerous Lakers tandem of Elgin Baylor and Jerry West, the Lakers won 55 games and looked to capture the franchise's first title since moving west in 1960.
Things looked good for the Lakers as they won the first two games in L.A. But the Celtics stormed back and won the next two in Boston. Back then, The Finals was 2-2-1-1-1 format, and through the first six games, each team had won on its home floor. With Game 7 in Los Angeles, then Lakers-owner Jack Kent Cooke was so sure of victory, he had thousands of balloons prepared to drop from the rafters of The Forum to celebrate the Lakers win.
But Russell and the Celtics got wind of the plans and, inspired by the Laker organization's hubris, won Game 7 108-106. Russell gets his 11th and final ring, but West, who plays most of the series on a torn hamstring and averages 26 points wins, the first MVP award and the car that goes with it.
The prize is of little consolation to West, who had then never won an NBA title and suffered his sixth loss in six Finals tries to the Celtics.
"I'd just as soon give up that car if it would have meant winning the championship," West said. "I think it's insignificant when your team doesn't win."
So, that first Finals MVP remains irony-infused. West is still the only player from a losing team to win the Finals MVP and was denied a chance to win an NBA title by the team led by the man whose name is now permanently on the award.
Fast forward 40 years to the one name that immediately comes to mind for the 2009 Finals MVP: Kobe Bryant. Who else?
In essence, much of the focus in this Finals has been on Bryant. Just check out this sound bite from the ABC ad promoting Game 5 (Sunday, 8 p.m. ET): "With Kobe Bryant one win away from a championship ..."
Not the Lakers, Kobe. There's pressure on everybody in The Finals, but for Bryant it's double and much of it is self-inflicted. Much has been made of his desire to win a title without former teammate and three-time Finals MVP, Shaquille O'Neal. A lot has been said about last year's soul-crushing defeat to the Boston Celtics in six games.
Bryant's on a mission for a ring, and he will more than likely get a trophy out of it, too. Like the NBA championship, the Finals MVP, right now, is Bryant's to lose.
If Bryant does win the MVP, it will be the 10th time a Laker player has won it. West, as you know, won in 1969. Wilt won in 1972. Magic Johnson was the youngest player ever to win one in 1980 when he was 20. He added two others in 1982 and 1987. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar became the oldest player to win a Finals MVP at the age of 38 in 1985. James Worthy won it in 1988 and then there was O'Neal, who won three consecutive awards from 2000 to 2002.
It's a rich Finals history for a team that is on the cusp of winning its 15th title in 30 attempts and one that Bryant will more than likely add to some time in the next few days.
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