Until the NBA comes up with their definition of an MVP, it will always come down to a matter of criteria, to each voters’ perception of “valuable.” That’s why the 2009 race is so close. Should the trophy go to the best overall player (Kobe)? The best guy on the best team (LeBron)? The guy who had to carry the biggest load/weakest supporting cast (D-Wade)? The guy who impacted both ends of the floor more than anyone else (CP3/Dwight)?
Of course, the League will never outline a set MVP criteria, which is a good thing. It’s more fun this way, having these arguments every year and being able to draw more players into them. Naturally, the Dime office was split on this one. Kobe, LeBron and Wade were the Top-3, but no one could decide on a clear #1. Ultimately, we decided to go as literal as possible on the criteria — really focusing on the word “valuable” — which left just one man standing: LeBron James. More than just the most valuable player in the NBA, LeBron is the most valuable player to the NBA, and to the game of basketball itself.
You know LBJ’s value to the Cavs. His 28.4 points, 7.6 rebounds, 7.2 assists, 1.7 steals and 1.2 blocks don’t even truly quantify his impact. Because of LeBron, Mike “Now We Play Basketball” Brown just won Coach of the Year, even though his offensive acumen can fit on the back of a business card. LeBron’s game has changed the perception of Mo Williams from “T.J. Ford with range” to a legit All-Star, prolonged the career of Zydrunas Ilgauskas at a near-All-Star level, and allows guys like Anderson Varejao and Boobie Gibson to highlight their strengths and not overexpose their weaknesses. Look at the Cavs roster; top-to-bottom, they’ve got to be the weakest team to win 65-plus games in a regular season, but because of ‘Bron, they’re a heavy championship favorite.
That would normally be enough for LeBron to run away with MVP, but because Kobe, D-Wade, CP3 and Dwight were all so incredible this year, you have to go one step farther.
Beyond LeBron’s value to the Cavs, the NBA needs him more than any other player. If Kobe retired tomorrow, they’d be jumping off bridges in L.A., but the League would move on. D-Wade was pretty much invisible last year, and the NBA still turned in the season we called the best ever. Things will be OK if Wade’s not around.
LeBron? He helps give the NBA its identity. He’s the Tiger Woods of the League. He makes the cover of not just basketball magazines, but also Vogue and GQ and Fortune and TIME and Men’s Health. He gets feature spots on “60 Minutes” and gets mentioned in discussions at Charlie Rose‘s table. He’s not just the business, and he’s a business (man).
Bottom line, everything that makes Kobe the closest thing to Mike post-Mike on the court, LeBron represents the 21st century MJ off the court. Which shouldn’t downplay from what he does within the game. This isn’t the NBA’s Anna Kournikova we’re talking about. LeBron meets all the previous criteria mentioned above: He’s arguably the best player in the world, he does carry a team of less-than elite talent, and he does impact the game on both ends — wait and see how many Defensive Player of the Year votes he gets as the leader of the Cavs’ #1-ranked defense.
In our Dime #47 cover story on ‘Bron, Austin Burton wrote:
And in the game, LeBron has been better than he’s ever been before. From a fascinating prospect in 2003, to a legit superstar in 2005, to nearly a champion in 2007, he is arguably the best player in the world in 2009. Whether you side with LeBron or Kobe (and in today’s climate, apparently you do have to choose), at the very least, it’s taken as fact that LeBron is the most complete ballplayer and the most physically dominant force in the game. At 6-foot-8 and 270 pounds, he has the controlled velocity of a Koenigsegg CCX and the unchecked power of an Escalade.
But it’s everything surrounding the game that separates him from the pack this year. And because this isn’t the “Player of the Year” or “Most Outstanding Player,” that’s OK. It’s impossible to separate the NBA as a sport from the NBA as a business, and in these times, “value” means more than ever. It’s not just about points, boards and dimes; LeBron took care of that part. It’s his overall and complete value that makes him the Most Valuable Player.