These NBA Finals have been absolutely fantastic. No ifs, ands or buts about it, each game has been pure entertainment from wire to wire. If last year, we were watching the greatest player (LeBron) vs. the greatest team (the Spurs), then this year, we’re getting that matchup on steroids — which is unique, because rarely do these types of matchups live up to the hype.
Speaking of hype, I don’t need to tell you how good LeBron James has been in this series. On the game’s largest stage, with essentially zero help, he’s giving us the best we’ve ever seen from him. That’s saying a lot. And not only that, but we may be witnessing the best Finals performance we’ve ever seen … period.
Even after Game 2, it was becoming obvious enough that my friends and I began discussing the possibility of LeBron accepting the Finals MVP trophy without raising the Larry O’Brien trophy. After Game 5 — another 40 points, 14 boards and 11 assists in a losing cause — that argument is gaining a lot of traction.
One thing has been made crystal clear, though. No matter what happens in Game 6 (and Game 7 if we’re lucky enough to get one), LeBron is BY FAR the MVP of this series. And if the Cavs can pull off a miracle by going on to win the series in seven, on the road against a 67-win team, LeBron would double fist his third Championship and Finals MVP trophies with the utmost pride. It would arguably be the greatest accomplishment in NBA history. But the question at hand is this: Could he still win the MVP if his team ultimately fails?
An argument can be made that LeBron is more than worthy.
One player has earned Finals MVP honors in a losing effort all-time — Jerry West in 1969. His Lakers lost to the Celtics in as tight of a seven-game series as you could ask for (the C’s won Game 7 by two points in L.A. and Bill Russell rode off into the sunset). The Logo posted averages of 37.9 points, 4.7 rebounds and 7.4 assists, while playing 43.9 minutes and shooting 49 percent. That’s pretty damn good … but LeBron’s simply been better.
LBJ’s averages of 36.6 points, 12.4 rebounds and 8.8 assists have taken versatility to the next level, and that’s while battling for 45.6 minutes and shooting 40 percent. Yes, the shooting percentage is significantly lower than West’s, but teammates with names like Baylor and Chamberlain took a whole lot of pressure off West. All pressure that falls squarely on James’ broad shoulders here in 2015.
LeBron became the second player in Finals history to score 40 points while recording a triple-double on Sunday night. The first? West’s line of 42-13-12 back in 1969. And LeBron has basically done it twice in this series, as his 39-16-11 in Game 2 didn’t quite qualify. LeBron has reached Jerry West’s 1969 status and gone on to exceed it.
Could Kobe win with this Cavs team? Bird? Magic? Even Jordan? Nope. That’s why arguing for James to be the Finals MVP, regardless of which team wins, is becoming practically obvious (if the award was taken for it’s literal meaning).
With each legendary performance, it looks more and more probable, but the short answer is still that the MVP is going to be on the winning team. It’s the “Best Player on the Team that Wins Award” in today’s NBA. There’s a reason it’s only happened once, and that was 46 years ago. All the value is placed on winning, and rightfully so.
If the ’69 Finals had finished today, John Havlicek would have been the MVP with his 28.3-point, 11-rebound, 4.4-assist showing. Some side notes that I have to hit on from those Finals: Havlicek averaged 48 minutes per game! There were no overtime games … do the math. Russell averaged 21.1 rebounds for the series, and I really wish they recorded blocks and steals in those days. But the award was taken literally back then, and West was the best player on the floor.
Would giving the award to LeBron be sending the right message after what we’ve made the award into today? Stephen A. Smith brought up a great point on First Take while discussing the issue — Would LeBron even accept the award?
Sure, King James’ ego can come off as larger than life at times, but there’s no disputing one thing: LeBron James is the ultimate team player. Those types of guys are few and far between. The last one that comes to my mind is Kevin Garnett. Put aside that the two may not like each other, and they have one major quality in common. Back in 2008, when KG earned Defensive POY honors, he waived his entire cast of Celtics teammates onto the court to accept the award with him. Because it was a “team effort,” Garnett would say.
KG wore the number 5 in Boston because he said it takes all five players on the floor at all times to win. Nobody understands that better than LeBron. It doesn’t matter if the other four guys look like D-League call ups as they have so far this series for LeBron. It’s always team first.
If anybody would tell you that a player on the losing team is undeserving of the Finals MVP, it would be LeBron James himself. Doesn’t mean we all still can’t appreciate what he’s doing. We know who the real MVP is, and he knows we do.
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