ORLANDO, Fla. — LeBron James is fine.
His Los Angeles Lakers are up 1-0 on the Denver Nuggets in the Western Conference finals and he promised to sleep good in the NBA bubble.
But that doesn’t mean the Kia MVP voting, announced Friday, didn’t rile him up. He agreed that back-to-back winner Giannis Antetokounmpo had a great year. It’s the system and the voting breakdown — he received 16 of the 101 first-place votes — that caused a problem.
For a four-time winner of the award in his 17th season who led the league in assists and guided the Lakers to the No 1 seed in the Western Conference playoff chase, and has his team three wins away from The Finals … that’s math he can’t comprehend.
Finishing second for a fourth time, however, left him more angry than anything.
“Pissed me off. That’s my true answer,” he said when asked for his thoughts on his place in the race. “It pissed me off because out of 101 votes, I got 16 first-place votes. That’s what pissed me off more than anything. You know, not saying that the winner wasn’t deserving of the MVP. But that pissed me off. And I finished second a lot in my career, either from a championship, and now four times as an MVP.
“I never came into this league to be MVP or to be a champion. I’ve always just wanted to get better and better every single day, and those things will take care of itself. But some things is just out of my hand and some things you can’t control. But it pissed me off.”
I get it. The MVP debate/discussion stirs passion and emotion 24 hours a day, seven days a week and 365 days a year.
I’ve been responsible for NBA.com‘s Kia Race to the MVP Ladder long enough to know that my email inbox and social media feeds have the scars to prove how partisan the MVP discussion can get.
LeBron’s legion of supporters, my own father included, have no problem letting me know how wrong they think I was to be among the evil 85 that didn’t have LeBron at the top of my ballot.
And there’s no doubt that LeBron presented a strong case for the top spot this season and basically every season since he entered the league.
It pissed me off because out of 101 votes, I got 16 first-place votes. That’s what pissed me off more than anything.
LeBron James on Kia MVP voting
I would point out that in this strangest of NBA seasons, with shutdown for the coronavirus pandemic and the restart here in the bubble and the fact that we’re seeing the conference finals in September, the awards conversation is as strange as it’s been in years.
Is it any coincidence that in this strangest of NBA seasons it marks the first time since the 2006-07 campaign that none of the main award winners — MVP, Defensive Player of the Year, Most Improved Players, Rookie of the Year, Sixth Man Award and Coach of the Year — are in the conference finals?
So maybe there’s good reason for LeBron to be upset about the MVP race. After all, a slight, real or perceived, has always been a great motivator, even for the game’s all-time greats (see Jordan, Michael and The Last Dance for a reminder).
But it’s clear he’s been thinking about the voting process for season-ending awards for some time, the MVP criteria in particular.
“I don’t know. I’m not going to sit up here and talk about what the criteria should be or what it is,” he said. “It’s changed over the years since I’ve gotten into the league, I know that. It’s just changed. It’s changed a lot. Sometimes it’s the best player on the best team. Sometimes it’s the guy with the best season statistically … Giannis had a hell of a season, I can definitely say that.”
While he doesn’t need any extra motivation to add a fourth Larry O’Brien Trophy to his wickedly long list of accomplishments, LeBron did rattle the saber when he offered his thoughts about those aforementioned fluid requirements for finishing first in any award category.
“I mean, I’m fine. Don’t get it twisted. I’m going back to my room. I’m perfectly fine. We’re 1-0 in the Western Conference finals. I’m absolutely fine. I was pissed off at the reaction earlier when I saw it, (but) I’m absolutely great now. I’m going back to my room (to) drink some wine and sleep very well tonight. Let’s not get it twisted. I’m great.”
“It’s just the voting scale is a little weird to me sometimes,” he continued. “I mean, if you take 2012. If you just stick with me — or 2012-13, I had a chance to be Defensive Player of the Year and also MVP in the same season. And that year [Marc] Gasol was [voted] Defensive Player of the Year, but he made Second Team All-Defense. So that doesn’t make sense. It’s like being MVP of the league, but you make Second Team All-NBA. That’s when I really started to look at things differently. I was like, how does that even make any sense? It’s like being Rookie of the Year but you make Second Team All-Rookie.
“And then I looked at the Most Improved this year, and rightfully so Brandon Ingram was amazing and I thought he should have won it. But did you see the vote that Devonte’ Graham got? He averaged four points last year compared to 17 and a half (this year). If that’s not improving, what is? … I don’t know how much we are really watching the game of basketball or are we just in the narration mode, the narrative.”
Anthony Davis finished sixth in the MVP voting this season, his first playing alongside LeBron. There’s no question who he would have voted for.
“He deserves it. What he’s been able to do for our team, the things he’s been doing individually, on a consistent basis, night-in, night-out. It’s not even a question who deserves it,” Davis said. “Year 17, doing what he’s doing. I’m pretty sure he said everything that I was going to say … They kind of choose the MVP before the season even starts.
If the Lakers needed a rallying cry for this postseason run beyond the career-making accomplishment of winning a title or restoring the glory to a proud franchise that hasn’t been in this space since 2010, they surely have it now.
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