By Steve Aschburner, NBA.com
Posted Feb 11 2011 11:56AM
Winning one Most Valuable Player Award looks way better on an NBA superstar's resume than none. But if one is good, two is better, three is exemplary and any more than that puts a fellow in those Mt. Rushmore debates.
So a member of The Race got to wondering this week: If Los Angeles Lakers legends Jerry West and Elgin Baylor are the best players in league history never to win the MVP -- the view here is that it's a coin flip between the two -- what best-among-the-best performer would rank as the greatest to ever win it just once?
Would it be Oscar Robertson, who won his MVP in 1964 when the award was being dominated by big men? (Robertson and Bob Cousy as the inaugural winner in 1956 were the only guards to break through in the first 31 years it was presented.)
Might it be Hakeem Olajuwon of the Houston Rockets, the thinking-man's choice of a lot of fans when arguing about the best centers ever? Olajuwon earned his only MVP in 1994, the first of two seasons in which he led Houston to NBA championships.
Would Shaquille O'Neal rank as the greatest one-and-done MVP? O'Neal won his award in 1999-2000 as he helped the Lakers to their first title in a decade. Then he saw little man Allen Iverson and rival Tim Duncan take the next two, all while the Lakers kept winning rings. When O'Neal took his talents to South Beach and brought Miami a championship in his second season there, Phoenix's Steve Nash was making off with his second consecutive Maurice Podoloff trophy.
Maybe, though, the winner of this little historical Race would be O'Neal's old pal Kobe Bryant. When The Race considers the rest of Bryant's portfolio -- his climb up the all-time scoring list, those five chunky rings, his sustained excellence now across 15 pro seasons -- it seems as if somehow the Lakers' shooting guard has been neglected a bit by MVP voters.
Just one? Really? In 2007-08, Bryant won his lone MVP for a season in which he posted the fifth-highest scoring average to that point. Among his career numbers, his assists average was tied for second-best, his rebounds tied for fourth. He had shot the ball more accurately in five previous seasons.
As a group, his team won 57 games, third-most in the NBA. But much like this season with San Antonio and Boston, the teams that had more victories than Los Angeles in 2007-08 -- the Celtics (66) and the Pistons (59) -- were seen as ensembles. Greater than the sum of their parts and not reliant on just one MVP candidate.
It's just that, stacked up next to the rest of his achievements, one MVP seems a little paltry. Let's not forget the two scoring titles, 12 all-NBA berths (eight on the first team) or his 10 all-defense selections.
On Thursday, Bryant went out and orchestrated a victory over the Celtics in Boston with his play at both ends: A lethal attack of the basket with three straight buckets deep into the fourth quarter and active, trapping defense all over the parquet. "Kobe won the game with his defense," Boston coach Doc Rivers said afterward.
By the way, this isn't a situation similar to what Karl Malone, Charles Barkley, John Stockton, Patrick Ewing, Reggie Miller and the rest faced in playing during the Michael Jordan era, when being born at the wrong time precluded any championships for a generation of NBA stars. Jordan, the player Bryant most often has been compared to, was done as a legitimate MVP candidate in 1998, when Bryant still was a teenager. Eight players besides Bryant have won the MVP since then, including two each for Duncan, Nash and LeBron James.
As competitive as Bryant is, might the dearth of MVP awards bug him? The Race sought an answer to that Thursday after the Lakers' shootaround in Boston.
"No, things have worked out for me pretty well in June," Bryant said. "I'm pretty comfortable with that."
His reference was to those five rings and to the Finals MVP, of which he is the defending two-time winner. O'Neal won three in a row during the Lakers' three-peat from 2000 to 2002, so that's something for Bryant to aim at this spring.
Asked what his own definition of the MVP is, Bryant shrugged that off as well. "It's whatever the brilliant writers decide," he said, laughing.
Something about the adjective in that suggests Bryant might disagree with the MVP outcomes after all.
Here are this week's Race leaders, seven of whom would be elated to get into the best-one-time-winner discussion:
Dropping out: LaMarcus Aldridge, Portland (tied for No. 10 last week); Kevin Love, Minnesota (t-No. 10); Zach Randolph, Memphis (t-No. 10), and Raymond Felton, New York (t-No. 10).
Honorable mention: Aldridge; Randolph; Pau Gasol, L.A. Lakers; Love; Steve Nash, Phoenix; Tony Parker, San Antonio.
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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