Consistency is key.
In recent years, the outcry among Lakers and Kobe Bryant fans has been that Kobe Bryant has been robbed of MVP Awards that he rightly deserved. This year, with LeBron James often considered a front-runner in the MVP race despite his team’s lackluster record, the indignant outcry has grown even louder: “Kobe was robbed the last two years!”
No, he wasn’t.
Lakers fans, it’s time for a wake-up call: When you claim that Kobe was robbed the last two years, you undermine your position that LeBron James doesn’t deserve it this year. By claiming that Kobe deserved the Award the last two years, you are, in fact, legitimizing LeBron’s candidacy for the Award.
The idea that Kobe deserved the award for the last two years was based on his league-leading offensive production and his ability to carry a very weak team to the Playoffs. Based on a literal definition of the term “Most Valuable Player,” this would seem to make sense. However, if we hold to that definition of the MVP, then LeBron clearly fits the bill better than Kobe this year. LeBron’s offensive production this year eclipses Kobe’s, and he is carrying a much weaker team than Bryant’s Lakers into the Playoffs.
The argument for Bryant as this year’s MVP is not based on either of these criteria. Instead, it is based on the criteria that prevented him from winning the award in the past: his team’s record, and his role as the leader and most valuable player on one of the best teams in the league. It is based on this criteria that Bryant is the current favorite to win the award, while James is one loss away from no longer being a valid candidate.
More than anything else, consistency is what I demand from Bryant’s critics. In fact, it’s what I demand of everyone. As such, it is only natural that I be held to the same standard, and it should follow that I hold myself to the that standard.
It is for this reason that, if the Cavs defy their current pace and manage 50 or more wins this season, I would fully expect Cavs fans, LeBron James fans, and all those who consider James this season’s MVP to hold me to my own criteria for the MVP Award. And they would be justified in doing so. In fact, let me take a moment to do so right now: If the Cavs win every single one of their remaining games to reach the 50-win mark, I will consider LeBron James a valid candidate for MVP consideration.
Let’s bring this full circle, back to Kobe Bryant. Nearly two months ago, I wrote an article entitled LeBron & Fans Experience the “Bryant-Nash Rule”, arguing that based on the currently accepted criteria for MVP — criteria that is thoroughly reinforced by 25 years of precedence — James does not merit consideration in the MVP debate. Lakers fans and Bryant fans emphatically agreed.
Later that month, I wrote an article entitled Kobe Bryant: MVP, in which I evaluated all four of the concensus MVP candidates, and argued that Kobe Bryant is the clear choice for this year’s MVP. In this article, I reiterated the point that the Cavs’ record “does not satisfy the minimum requirement for MVP candidacy.”
Throughout all of this, I never heard a single complaint from a Lakers fan regarding my assertion that LeBron James does not deserve consideration this year. Not once did a Kobe Bryant fan suggest that because he felt Bryant had deserved it the previous two years, James deserves it this year for all of the same reasons.
Again, consistency is key. When fans of James have argued that he is the clear choice for this season’s MVP, I have often responded with a challenge: Recognize and admit that Kobe Bryant should have won the award for the last two years, and I will recognize the validity of your position. (Note: This does not mean it is the correct position, as 25 years of precedence has determined that the voters rely on different criteria for the award, but the position would be valid in its consistency.)
So far, not one has been willing to concede the point. And again, Lakers fans felt vindicated, claiming that if LeBron’s advocates are unwilling to recognize Kobe’s accomplishments over the past two years, then they have no ground on which to stand for advocating LeBron this year. And they were correct.
But this is a two-way street, and Bryant’s advocates must be held to the same standard they apply to others. If they claim that Bryant deserved the MVP Award in 2006 and 2007, then they must also concede that James deserves it for 2008.
So I’ll say it again: Kobe Bryant was never robbed. Not in 2006, when he averaged over 35 points per game, including a historical 81 points in a single game, and led a terrible Lakers team to 45 wins and a near upset of the Suns in the first round of the Playoffs. Not in 2007, when he again led the league in scoring and carried a Lakers team made weak by endless injuries into the Playoffs.
A statement I hear with increasing frequency is that the MVP Award has been compromised and lost all credibility. The idea is that MVP voting has been so arbitrary and so inconsistent that the validity and legitimacy of the award have been undermined.
Dirk Nowitzki and Steve Nash, in particular, are cited as two primary reasons for which the award is no longer “legitimate” — Nowitzki because he and his Mavericks disappeared in the Playoffs and were swept by the 8th seed Warriors, and Nash because many, especially Lakers fans, feel that there were better choices (namely, Bryant).
But this ignores the fact that the MVP Award is a regular season award. A player’s performance in the Playoffs has absolutely no bearing on the MVP Award. During the regular season, Dirk Nowitzki was unquestionably the best player on a team that won 67 games. To put that in perspective, this year’s Celtics are on pace for 65 wins.
Meanwhile, Steve Nash’s MVP seasons also adhered to the traditional NBA criteria for the MVP. In 2004-05, the Suns had the best record in the NBA with 62 wins. In 2005-06, only Detroit and San Antonio had better records, and the success of both of those teams was attributed more to their team-oriented system than to a single player, whereas Nash rightfully deserved much of the credit for the Suns’ success.
In fact, I would argue that MVP voting over the past 25 years has been remarkably consistent. Since Moses Malone in 1982, no MVP winner has led his team to fewer than 50 wins (strike-shortened season not included, of course). In fact, only twice in that same time period has the MVP come from a team with fewer than 55 wins: Michael Jordan with 50 wins in 1988, and Steve Nash with 54 wins in 2005.
Kobe Bryant was not robbed of the MVP Award in 2005 and 2006. He did not deserve it in either of those years. In fact, to have awarded it to him would have shown bias in his favor. Lakers fans have complained that many are attempting to “adjust the finish line in LeBron James’ favor.” If Bryant had won the award in either 2005 or 2006, the same assessment could correctly have been applied to him.
Lakers fans, I’m asking the same thing of you that I require of those who advocate for James over Bryant: some consistency, please. You are correct when you say that LeBron James should not win the award this year for the same reasons that Kobe Bryant did not win it the last two years. But when you claim that Bryant was robbed of the MVP Award in 2005 and 2006, you undermine your own position.
He was certainly the “Most Impressive Player” over the last couple years — a term more and more people are using these days — but Kobe Bryant was not the MVP in either of the last two years.