They announced the three finalists for the NBA’s MVP award this week, and LeBron James’ name wasn’t on the list. Doesn’t make the list short, exactly. Just small.
This basically means that you can continue to be the best all-around basketball player of all time, be on your way to the NBA Finals for the seventh straight time, and yet somehow the voters think you’re not one of the three most valuable players in your sport, not as valuable as James Harden is to the Rockets and Russell Westbrook is to the Thunder and Kawhi Leonard is to the Spurs.
Leonard is hurt. At least his team is still playing. Harden’s team is gone. So is Westbrook’s. There is no intent here to diminish their accomplishments this season, and especially Westbrook’s statistical accomplishments. But not one of them is more valuable to his team than LeBron James is to the Cleveland Cavaliers, not in the regular season, not in the postseason, not now or ever.
Michael Jordan didn’t win the MVP award every season. There is no law passed that LeBron has to, either. The whole world knows how subjective the whole idea of “most valuable” is in sports.
Except when it comes to LeBron, and even in a time when his team was less than he wanted it to be and less than we thought it would be during a regular season that finally saw the Cavs finish in second place in the Eastern Conference. He is not just the best player and best teammate. He is always the most valuable player, one who continues to influence games in more positive ways, on a nightly basis, than any basketball player ever has.
He is the biggest star in American sports for a reason, whether the Warriors, who went out and added Kevin Durant this season after LeBron and Kyrie Irving and the Cavs beat them last season, get him again in the Finals or not. There is him, there is Tom Brady, the GOAT of pro football, and then there is everybody else.
There is no bad team in the NBA, including our Knicks, that LeBron James doesn’t turn into a playoff team just by walking into the gym. It is one of the beauties of a five-man sport. Mike Trout, whose Angels teams have not yet won a single playoff game despite the wonder of his talents, can’t do that in baseball. LeBron can. You put him in the Garden or in Philadelphia and the Knicks and the 76ers become playoff teams in that moment.
Maybe Harden could do that. Maybe Westbrook could do that. Maybe Leonard could do that. There is just one important difference: The teams being discussed wouldn’t be as good as they’d be with LeBron. Only the point-missers continue to bang away at this guy. Just making it to the Finals again, seven times in a row, four with the Heat and three with the Cavs, would stand with anything a basketball immortal has done since Bill Russell, who was the greatest winner in the history of American sports (two NCAA championships, one Olympic gold medal, 11 NBA championships in 13 years, the last two as a player-coach of the Celtics). And that includes Michael going 6-0 in the Finals.
The LeBron-Jordan debate, for me, is as interesting as any we’ve ever had in sports, DiMaggio or Williams, Mantle or Mays, Russell or Chamberlain, Magic or Larry. Michael was the main event for me, from the time I saw him beat Patrick Ewing and Georgetown in the 1982 NCAA men’s basketball finals, all the way through the Wizards. But as great as he was, his Bulls never beat a team in the Finals as deep and talented as the Warriors were last season, even before they got Durant.
Doesn’t diminish what Michael did, either. Come on. I’ve always said that if all the best players in history were in the gym and you gave me first pick, I’d still go with Michael. But there is one qualification that always must be added to the conversation: The story isn’t over yet with LeBron James.
“I haven’t finished fourth in a long time,” he said.
Go back and look at his first trip to the Finals, where he and the Cavs got swept by the Spurs. Look at the players he had around him that season: After James, Booby Gibson and Larry Hughes and Drew Gooden and Zydrunas Ilgauskas had the most minutes in the Finals. LeBron James was 22 years old at the time. There was a point in the Eastern Conference finals, against the Pistons, where he scored 29 of his team’s last 30 points in Game 5, including Cleveland’s last 25 points in that game.
The playoffs don’t inform the MVP voting, we all get that and know that. So what the Cavaliers did to the Celtics in Game 2 of these Eastern Conference finals on Friday night in Boston – a 130-86 victory that was 72-31 at halftime – does nothing to improve or elevate James’ standing with the voters. All that game does, though, is once again validate his standing, in his sport, at the age of 32.
Of course we live in a gotta-get-a-ring culture, one that is supposed to be the ultimate way to define greatness in sports. So LeBron only has three rings, so far, to Russell’s 11 in a different time, and Michael’s six, and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s six, and Magic’s five and Kobe’s five. No one would ever dispute the talent LeBron had with him in Miami, has with him now.
But there have to be other factors in evaluating LeBron. My friend Bob Ryan always points out that not only has he made the seven Finals he has already made with three different sets of players, he has done it with four different coaches.
LeBron also said this the other day:
“My only job is to try to be the MVP for this team every night, put my teammates, put our franchise in position to be successful and ultimately compete for a championship. For me, I know what I bring to the table. This league knows what I bring to the table.”
Everybody should by now. Votes have been in on this for a while.
NBA zaniness, Godzilla’s ovation & Sharapova’s snub…
-The way the Mets looked on Friday night against the Angels was the way they were supposed to look.
I think we can call off the contest line, and declare that the Nets trade for Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett, one that got the Celtics the No. 1 pick this season and gets them another No. 1 next season, is the worst single trade in all of modern sports history.
In what world is it a good idea that a vote for All-NBA teams helps determine how much money players like Paul George and Gordon Hayward can get paid as free agents?
It sometimes seems less important to LaVar Ball that his sons become stars as it is that he has become a big star in the world of cheesy celebrity.
Phil Jackson said, “We’re good at what we do” the other night, and I guess my question is:
Relative to what, Zen guy?
It is always worth remembering, as we move up on the start of the French Open, that after last year’s French Open Novak Djokovic had won the last four majors in men’s tennis and was halfway to the calendar Grand Slam.
-I kind of could have gotten by without them playing “My Way” as Jeter rode in from the outfield last Sunday night.
By the way?
If you take the ovation for Derek out of the conversation, no one got a louder greeting at the Stadium than Hideki Matsui did.
They loved him at the new place the first time they saw him, they loved him when he tore the cover off the ball in Game 6 against the Phillies in 2009, and they still love him.
About halfway through the Yankees-Royals game on Thursday night, I actually started to wonder if Alex Rodriguez was aware that we could all hear him.
You hear the ballplayer that Keith Hernandez was come out every single time he sees someone in the game he’s watching on SNY or WPIX not play the game right.
I don’t know what happens with the Mets the rest of the way, but T.J. Rivera, the kid from the Bronx, continues to remind us why he’s a keeper.
-Whatever you think of Maria Sharapova’s drug use, she paid a very heavy price for it and served out her suspension, and the idea that the people in charge of the French Open now decide she doesn’t even get a spot in the qualifying tournament shows what small-timers these people really are.
But this is a tournament that 43 years ago kept Jimmy Connors out because he was playing World Team Tennis, in a year when Connors won the other three majors and probably would have won a calendar Grand Slam himself.
From the New York Times on Friday:
“President Trump told Russian officials in the Oval Office this month that firing the F.B.I. director, James B. Comey, had relieved ‘great pressure’ on him, according to a document summarizing the meeting.”
So once again, the 45th President of the United States is the gift that keeps on giving.
Especially if you’re, say, oh I don’t know, a special prosecutor like Robert Mueller.
-When Kevin Love plays the way he did against the Celtics in Game 1, you once again start to get the idea that the sides are going to be even when the Cavs play the Warriors in Ali-Frazier III.
It truly is amazing how similar Mike Trout’s numbers are to Mickey Mantle’s at a comparable point in their two careers.
Tom Brady’s wife says that Touchdown Tom had a concussion last season and now Brady’s agent says he didn’t, and so there’s a nice healthy dialogue the two of them have going.
If Donald Trump twists himself around one more time about that memo Rod Rosenstein wrote after Trump had already decided to fire James Comey, we’re going to have to give his moves a name, like they do in figure skating:
The triple Rosenstein.
Sort of like a triple lutz.
And kids, you know the deal:
Don’t try this at home.
We really did need the slaughter rule for Cavs-Celtics on Friday night.