With over half of the NBA season already played out, and the All-Star break approaching, the talk of who will be this year’s MVP is gaining momentum.
Brian Windhorst recently wrote the following in the Acron Beacon Journal:
Not so fast, Brian.
The problem here is that LeBron, in his MVP quest, is Kobe Bryant two years ago. And Brian Windhorst is saying what every Lakers fan has already said.
When Kobe did this, he didn’t win the MVP. Neither will LeBron this year.
Of course, Laker fans would agree with Brian — and with all of the Cavs & LeBron James fans who are screaming foul play. After all, this is what we said last year, not to mention the year before.
Literally defined, the “Most Valuable Player” would be the player whose team would suffer the most from their absence. That is, the literal definition of the MVP is about as straight-forward as it gets — the player who is more valuable to his own team than any other player is to his.
But while this may be the most straight-forward and literally correct definition of a “Most Valuable Player,” it has been well established that the NBA’s MVP award has additional criteria. Therefore, as much as Lakers fans and Cavs fans might agree that the MVP should be the player whose team suffers the most without him, it simply doesn’t work that way.
That is because of what I will refer to as the Bryant-Nash Rule.
As I mentioned above, the “Most Valuable Player” is (unfortunately, perhaps) not defined as simply “the player whose team would suffer the most in their absence.”
Whether or not there was a defining moment, or a time when “the powers that be” specifically stated that this is how it should be, would seem to be irrelevant. However it came to be, it has been made exceedingly clear that the MVP Award must go to a player on a winning team.
That is the Bryant-Nash Rule.
Not only that, but the term “winning team,” as defined in the Bryant-Nash Rule, has come to be defined as a minimum of 50 wins (in an 82-game season) — and the voters typically prefer a candidate from a team more in the 55+ wins category.
The precedent for this is very well established. Not since Moses Malone won the MVP in 1982 with a Houston team that won only 46 games has an MVP come from a team with fewer than 50 wins. (As such, you could also call it the Moses Malone Rule.)
This precedent was very clearly reinforced over the past two years. In each of the past two years, Kobe Bryant carried a team of scrubs to the playoffs almost single-handedly — often performing super-human feats, breaking records, making history, and seeming to carry the offensive load almost without any help. Each year, the Lakers tallied win totals the mid-fourties.
This was a team that, aside from Kobe Bryant and the ever-inconsistent, not-suited-to-be-a-second-option Lamar Odom, started Kwame “Stonehands” Brown — one of the biggest busts of all #1 draft picks, whose primary value is considered to be his expiring contract — and “The Smush Parker Experiment,” who, since his departure from LA, can’t even get a job as a 2nd or 3rd string point guard on Miami, the worst team in the NBA. In 2005, the Lakers didn’t even have a legitimate fifth starter — Kwame Brown, Chris Mihm, and Brian Cook split the minutes at the Center and Forward positions.
That same year, the Lakers entire bench averaged a laughable 12.2 points per game.
The next year, 3 out of 5 starters were injured for major portions of the season, with Lamar Odom, Luke Walton, and Kwame Brown missing a combined 89 games (102 games not started). Before their injuries, the Lakers were on track for 56+ wins.
After their injuries resulted in a large losing streak for the Lakers — during which time Kobe remained a team player and submitted himself to Phil Jackson’s offense, until Jackson and his assistant Tex Winter (creator of the Triangle Offense) asked him to take over and shoot more — Kobe shouldered the offensive burden once again, scored 50+ points in four straight games (all wins), and led the team again to a winning record of 42-40.
There can be no question that without Kobe Bryant, the Lakers would have struggled to win even 20 games in each of the past two years. Nonetheless, the voters were unmoved. Though lack of surrounding talent and injuries were beyond his control, and what he accomplished in spite of such obstacles was both incredible and historic, the voters held to their mantra: fifty-plus wins or no MVP.
The Bryant-Nash Rule allows no exceptions.
And so it is. While Lakers fans have bitterly insisted that “MVP” simply means “the player who is most valuable to his team,” the precedent has been established over the course of 25 years — and reinforced over the past two years — that the MVP must come from a team with a minimum of 50 wins.
The result of the NBA’s Bryant-Nash Rule for determining the MVP is two-fold.
First, it prevents a superstar on a horrible team from receiving the MVP Award. Were the MVP defined according to its strict, literal dictionary definition, the result would likely be that a superstar on a losing team would receive the award 9 times out of 10. While this reasoning may not be explicitly stated, I believe that, subconsciously at least, this is why the Bryant-Nash Rule exists.
Perhaps a better way to see this is as a measure to prevent stat-seeking. Giving the MVP Award were to a high-performing superstar on a losing team would open the door to stat-seeking, “me first” players who pad their stats while their team loses, all in pursuit of the MVP Award. This would reward players like Gilbert Arenas — who is more than willing to take his shots (even when they aren’t falling), score his points, and make his own case with a vocal arrogance, while pouting when his coach asks him to play defense — for looking out for himself while failing to do what is best for his team.
That’s what is at the heart of the Bryant-Nash Rule. The thought is — and correctly so — that the MVP does whatever it takes to help his team win and succeed. Even if that means sacrificing his own statistics. (See Kobe Bryant, PPG and FGA, 2005-06 vs. 2007-08.) And that makes sense, right? And that’s what this ensures.
And while Kobe may have been doing only what was necessary for his team to win in the past two years, the best way, overall, to ensure that the MVP Award doesn’t reward stat-seekers is to make a hard and fast rule: 50+ wins, absolute minimum.
The second thing that results from the Bryant-Nash Rule is that the MVP Award often goes to players who have much more help than a player who would be considered deserving under the literal definition of an MVP. For example, the 2006 MVP Award went to Steve Nash — even though Nash played with two other All-Stars and the best starting five in the NBA, on the most stacked team in the NBA. One could argue that without Nash, the Suns would still have won over 40 games and had a winning record, whereas without Kobe the Lakers would have been headed straight for the lottery. And while this is a legitimate negative side-effect of the Bryant-Nash Rule, the belief is that the need to disqualify stat-seekers outweighs this negative side-effect.
And that is a belief that I share — even though it has worked against Kobe Bryant, of whom I am obviously a fan.
Maybe Next Year
Maybe you agree with that, maybe you don’t. I’ve definitely resisted it at times, but I’ve come to see the wisdom of it, and agree with it.
As a Cavs and/or LeBron James fan, I’m sure it’s hard to accept. I know, because I’ve been there. Lakers fans understand.
It didn’t happen for Kobe last year, or even the year before. And with the Cavs currently on track for 45 wins (see: Lakers, 2005-06), it won’t happen for LeBron this year.
Who should get it this year? Well, that’s another discussion, which I’ll save for later.
Until then, Lakers fans everywhere have a message for Brian Windhorst and all those who take his position:
We feel your pain. Maybe next year.