By Steve Aschburner, NBA.com
Posted Nov 12 2010 1:28PM
The problem with superlatives is that, by definition, you can't have two "mosts," "bests" or any other adjective that might end in "-est." If someone within a defined group is the best at something, someone else in that group can only rise as high as second-best. Which, if you think about it, really is an oxymoron, whether you're talking about the smartest, swiftest, tallest, prettiest or richest. Or, for that matter, their opposites.
That's a big reason we rarely have seen instances of two Most Valuable Players on the same NBA team at the same time.
We're not talking about co-MVPs in a team sense, mind you -- that often happens, two players contributing differently yet equally, as judged in some informal or Solomon-splitting-the-baby way by folks reluctant to make tough calls. No, we mean two actual NBA MVP award winners on the same roster. Not in the same year, obviously, but at all. Period.
Here at The Race, we can think of only six fellows who were named MVPs while playing alongside someone who already had won that honor. Working backward, with the hardware-bearing teammate in parentheses, they would be: Tim Duncan (David Robinson), Magic Johnson (Kareem Abdul-Jabbar), Larry Bird (Bill Walton), Moses Malone (Julius Erving), Abdul-Jabbar (Oscar Robertson) and Bill Russell (Bob Cousy).
In most of those six cases, there was a little torch-passing going on, with a past MVP yielding some status and role to the newly minted one. When both players are in or near their primes, the more likely result is that MVP voters favor one or the other and neither wins the award.
In the last decade, it has been rare that two players from the same team have finished in the Top 10. Only three times has a team produced both the MVP winner and a Top-10 finisher: Phoenix's Steve Nash won in 2006 and 2005, with Shawn Marion finishing 10th and Amar'e Stoudemire ninth, respectively. In 2004, Minnesota's Kevin Garnett won the Podoloff Trophy and Timberwolves guard Sam Cassell tied for 10th with two other players.
The best two teammates have done in MVP competition over the past 10 years was Shaquille O'Neal and Kobe Bryant from 2001 to 2004. Twice Shaq was deemed more valuable by the Most Valuable voters: He finished third with Bryant ninth in 2001 and third to Bryant's fifth the following season. But Bryant flipped things in 2003, finishing third to O'Neal's fifth. And in 2004, it was Bryant fifth, O'Neal sixth.
Given that the Lakers won titles in two of those years and reached the Finals three times, either O'Neal or Bryant might have deserving MVP winners. But teamed up, presumably benefiting from another elite player's help, they slipped down a little in the final tallies.
Why does this matter now, early in 2010-11? Because the dynamic could be in play for several MVP candidates who, looking right or left in their locker room, will see a teammate who already has been there, won that. Miami's Dwyane Wade is playing alongside the defending two-time MVP, LeBron James. Lakers forward Pau Gasol continues to be viewed by many as a sidekick to the still formidable Bryant in L.A. And Boston playmaker Rajon Rondo has Kevin Garnett on one side of him and O'Neal on the other in the Celtics' dressing room, a double dose of past MVP winners (both, to differing degrees, ready for some torch-passing).
The other seven guys on this week's list, good or bad, aren't dealing with the same MVP shadows:
Steve Aschburner has written about the NBA for 25 years. You can e-mail him here and follow him on twitter.
The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA, its clubs or Turner Broadcasting.
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