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Kobe Bryant says he leaves his place as a potential MVP up to the 'brilliant writers.'
Brian Babineau/NBAE via Getty Images

Among one-time MVP winners, Bryant stands tallest

By Steve Aschburner,
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? Video 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 Video 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:

1. Derrick Rose, Chicago Bulls (35-16)
Last Week's Rank - 1
It was inevitable that the Bulls would hit a skid, but it was Rose who stopped it at two games. Chicago still hasn't lost three in a row this season, thanks most recently to Rose's clutch steal and scoring at Utah Wednesday. He outclassed Jazz playmaker Deron Williams, who had a week to forget.

2. LeBron James, Miami Heat (38-14)
Last Week's Rank - 2
The two-time reigning MVP went third-person on The Race the other day, proclaiming he's "back to playing LeBron James basketball." (Hey, The Race just did it now, too.) Yet another East POTW award, followed by a triple-double against Indiana and 28-of-51 shooting over the past seven days has LBJ foes talking to themselves rather than about themselves.

3. Dwight Howard, Orlando Magic (34-20)
Last Week's Rank - 3
Some seriously heavy lifting by the Orlando strongman in a 3-1 week: Games of 22-15, 28-13, 22-20 and 30-17, along with 61.4 FG pct and 66.7 FT pct.

4. Kevin Durant, Oklahoma City Thunder (33-18)
Last Week's Rank - 4
Durant pocketed the West's POTW award Monday, then followed up with his fifth straight points-rebounds double-double (and seventh in nine games), getting 31 and 10 in the loss to Memphis.

5. Kobe Bryant, L.A. Lakers (37-16)
Last Week's Rank - 5
In the Lakers' three victories since last week's Race, Bryant averaged 24.7 points, 7.0 rebounds and 5.0 assists. Of his work against Boston Thursday, teammate Ron Artest said: "Kobe was kind of dissecting them, playing like a Peyton Manning role out there, and then he sealed the deal with some big shots."

6. Dwyane Wade, Miami Heat (38-14)
Last Week's Rank - 7
Wade immediately responded to what some felt was a slight by The Race last Friday by logging a triple-double at Charlotte. He and LeBron James talked after Tuesday's victory over Indiana of being more comfortable together -- which is more than some Heat fans seem to be, with their hardened factions favoring one Miami superstar or the other.

7. Dirk Nowitzki, Dallas Mavericks (37-16)
Last Week's Rank - 8
Five games, four victories in a busy seven days for the Mavericks and their MVP candidate. Nowitzki was solid rather than spectacular, averaging 18.4 ppg and 5.6 rpg while hitting 48.5 FG pct in a results-focused week.

8. Russell Westbrook, Oklahoma City Thunder (33-18)
Last Week's Rank - 9
Westbrook wouldn't apologize the other day for "taking" Steve Nash's reserve guard spot on the Western Conference All-Star squad -- nor should he. Three more double-doubles, a high shooting percentage and range improving out to the 3-point line earned him that berth and this one right here.

9. Chris Paul, New Orleans Hornets (32-22)
Last Week's Rank - 6
The Hornets like the results, but the committee is a little antsy for a monster game from Paul. He has been Mr. Steady but his season scoring high is 26 points, he has topped 14 assists four times and he has no triple-doubles. Neither do a lot of guys, but Paul's numbers are modest compared to his highlight games in previous years.

10. Carmelo Anthony, Denver Nuggets (31-23)
Last Week's Rank - --
The Race had looked off Anthony so far this season, believing that legit MVP candidates don't put their own career aspirations ahead of team ambitions in such an obvious, endless way. But there was no ignoring his 177 points in five games since last Friday (including nights of 50 and 42) or his 60-of-104 shooting. Now think if he were doing this with a signed extension and emotional commitment to the Nuggets, so that everyone there could contemplate their collective futures.

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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