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Things are looking up for Kobe Bryant in the latest Race to the MVP rankings.
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On Kobe, great athletes and a new Race committee

By Steve Aschburner,
Posted Jan 29 2010 11:36AM

You all don't know how close you came to getting an all-Kobe Bryant, all the time, Nos. 1 through 10 edition of The Race this week.

In aesthetic terms, there might have been something appealing about seeing the same guy listed one after another after another, stacked vertically to achieve an artistic effect not unlike what Andy Warhol did with repeating Campbell's soup cans. And yet, that wouldn't have been the reason.

Self-preservation would have been.

The Race, you see, is under new management. Beginning with this edition, a replacement committee takes over, otherwise known around here as The Management (or in Chicago parlance, The Outfit). Think of it as a mid-term inauguration.

The committee did not want to bring any baggage into this new duty. And lately, it had been dragging around several steamer trunks' worth of it, the result of a different Top 10 ranking. In that one, the committee offered up the greatest athletes in NBA history, where we eventually worked our way to No. 3 Michael Jordan, No. 2 LeBron James and No. 1 Wilt Chamberlain. The committee was heartened to see so much agreement with its top choice and fairly widespread acceptance of most other names on the list.

There were, naturally, some differences of opinions. That is to be expected, if not entirely welcomed, in matters such as these -- especially when a lot of you didn't bother to read the lengthy preamble and mistook one man's assessment of the league's all-time best athletes for just another run-of-the-mill, garden-variety ranking of the greatest NBA players. That's why, despite correspondence to the contrary, Larry Bird and Magic Johnson weren't included; even though the guy from French Lick and the fellow actually christened Earvin wouldn't quibble with it.

The omissions cited most fourth-, third- and second-most often by careful readers were Philadelphia legend Julius Erving, New York's mighty mite Nate Robinson and Orlando elder statesman Vince Carter. The committee can live with this, secure in the knowledge that those fine physical specimens are represented on your assessment's of the NBA's greatest athletes.

More troubling, though -- to the point of enlisting Brinks Security on a 90-day retainer and propping our version of Roy Hobbs' "Wonderboy'' bat against our nightstand -- was the hue and cry of Bryant's legions, questioning his absence.

The committee is not given to explaining itself in most circumstances, but in this case, it will make a brief exception: Like all NBA athletes, Bryant is a magnificent athlete. As a volume scorer, a creative and at times astonishing shooter, the closest thing to Michael Jordan since 1998 (closer even than Jordan's Wizards incarnation, 2001-03) and the bearer of four NBA championship rings, Bryant is more magnificent than most. While a couple of spots in our official Top 10 were used for group entries -- for example, No. 10 Gerald Wallace was a stand-in for all the great athletes in league history who didn't become great players (congrats to him, though, on his All-Star berth) -- Bryant surely would have been a deserving choice. The knife just had to cut somewhere.

(As for his exclusion from the honorable mentions, let's just say that a junior committee member will be ever so slightly boosting the nation's newly unemployed figures for January.)

Thus, the temptation to overdo the Bryant recognition in this edition of The Race. But the committee fought that off admirably, lest it be seen as sniveling and way too swayed by popular opinion.

Let's not forget, meanwhile, that the old committee all but proclaimed the Race to the MVP over and done in LeBron James' favor while dropping Bryant from No. 2 to No. 3 in two weeks ago in The Race.

The new committee is pleased to declare that an unconscionable slight.

1. LeBron James, Cavs
Last Week's Rank - 1
A frantic meeting was held within The Race's walls after LeBron James scored only 12 points Wednesday against lowly Minnesota. Might this cost The King his top spot? After much deliberation, the verdict came down: Nah. James only needed to score 12 -- he passed for 11 assists, tattooed Corey Brewer with another of those caught-from-behind breakaway blocks and sat out the fourth quarter, well, because he could as Cleveland won for the sixth straight time. It's worth noting here that when James scores fewer than 20 points in a game this year, the Cavaliers are 5-0. Now that's efficiency.

2. Kobe Bryant, Lakers
Last Week's Rank - 2
The Lakers' star began working on his second 25,000-point plateau, averaging 27.3 points, 9.6 rebounds and 8.0 assists in three games while shooting 53.7 percent. He helped L.A. improve to 3-2 on its lengthy Eastern trip.

3. Kevin Durant, Thunder
Last Week's Rank - 3
The OKC star became the youngest player in NBA history to score 25 points in at least 19 consecutive games. But his 28 on 7-of-19 weren't enough to fend off Chicago, at home no less, as the Thunder lost its third in a row.

4. Tim Duncan, Spurs
Last Week's Rank - 6
The Spurs' inscrutable star shoots 34.0 percent (16-of-47) in a three-game stretch and ... moves up in The Race? Sure, since he drained an un-Duncan-like 80.5 percent of his free throws (29-of-36) in those games and grabbed 27 rebounds in a victory over Atlanta. San Antonio held the Hawks to 39.8 percent shooting and, led by Duncan, grabbed most (41 defensive rebounds) of the visitors' many misses.

5. Chris Bosh, Raptors
Last Week's Rank - 8
If 34 double-doubles weren't already enough, Bosh made it clear he deserved an Eastern Conference All-Star roster spot -- probably a starting spot, if only Canada voted like China -- with 27 and 15 Thursday against New York and alleged coaches' snubbee David Lee.

6. Dwight Howard, Magic
Last Week's Rank - --
Shooting more free throws than field goals isn't something that happens much in this league. But it will when the guy involved hits his field goals (57.1 percent) almost as often as he sinks the supposedly easy ones (60.1). Howard averaged 18.7 points, 15.0 rebounds and, whoa, 5.7 blocks this week.

7. Dirk Nowitzki, Mavs
Last Week's Rank - 5
Nowtizki slipped out of his special NBA status -- he had been the only guy averaging 25.0 points, 8.0 rebounds, 1.0 steals and 1.0 blocks -- when he grabbed only five boards (and shot 5-of-11) in Thursday's loss at Phoenix. He slips here a little, then, as well, though he did score 20 at New York last weekend in the most lopsided victory in Dallas franchise history.

8. Derrick Rose, Bulls
Last Week's Rank - --
Before the Chicago point guard makes his All-Star debut, he gets a spot on the new committee-edition of The Race. Rose helped the Bulls to a season-best winning streak of four games and, after averaging 16.2 points in November and 20.4 in December, has been scoring at a 23.5 clip in January.

9. Steve Nash, Suns
Last Week's Rank - 7
Nash still is on pace to hit his usual numbers -- 50 percent from the floor, 40 percent from the arc and 90 percent from the line -- for the fourth time, something no one else has done more than twice. Despite his 19 points and 11 assists vs. Dallas, Nash was a minus-1 -- the Suns' bench actually won that one.

10. Dwyane Wade, Heat
Last Week's Rank - 10
The Race was poised to give Wade big ups after he shouldered responsibility for Miami's narrow loss to Cleveland -- that's what MVPs do, when they aren't scoring, starring and winning. But after he scored only two points in the second half against the Cavs, Wade got contained to four in the fourth quarter of the Heat's loss at Toronto.

Steve Aschburner has written about the NBA for 25 years. You can e-mail him here.

The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA, its clubs or Turner Broadcasting.

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