The biggest NBA MVP snubs, ever
In recent years, the NBA MVP award, which is supposed to go to the most valuable player, seems to have devolved into the “best statistical player” award. Are past years’ winners deserving of the distinction? Probably, but there are plenty of examples of players being snubbed of the prestigious award.
Wilt Chamberlain and Oscar Robertson, 1962
Back in 1962, the NBA’s three best players were Bill Russell, Oscar Robertson, and Wilt Chamberlain.
Russell’s Celtics won their fifth-straight NBA Finals that season, and the Philadelphia Warriors and Cincinnati Royals, Chamberlain and Robertson’s teams, finished with the third and fourth best records in the league.
In part to his team’s success, Russell was awarded MVP after averaging 18.9 points, 23.6 rebounds, and 4.5 assists per game. Very good numbers for that era of basketball, but other players had better arguments for MVP.
Robertson averaged 30.8 points, 12.5 rebounds, and 11.4 assists per game, and became the first, and until last season, the only player in NBA history to average a triple-double over an entire season.
Chamberlain scored 50.4 points per game while adding 25.7 rebounds and 2.4 assists. Despite these otherworldly performances, the award was given to Russell, the second of three consecutive MVPs.
Shaquille O’Neal, 2005
After a falling out with teammate Kobe Bryant, Shaq was traded to the Miami Heat for Caron Butler, Lamar Odom, Brian Grant, and a first-round pick.
In the Lakers’ first season without the all-time great, they sputtered to a 34-48 record, just one season after going 56-26 and making the NBA Finals for a fourth consecutive year. In 2003-2004, Miami went 42-40 and reached the second round of the playoffs. After acquiring O’Neal, their record improved to 59-23, and they reached the Eastern Conference Finals, where they lost to the defending champion Detroit Pistons.
The next season, Miami bested the Dallas Mavericks to win the NBA Finals. O’Neal averaged 22.9 points and 10.4 rebounds per game while playing with young dynamo Dwyane Wade, who averaged 24 points on 17 shots per game. Playing second fiddle to a future scoring champion and providing veteran leadership to a young team was O’Neal’s primary contribution; Steve Nash’s role was quite different.
The Suns were coming off of a lowly 29-53 finish and needed to make a splash to change the perception of their franchise. So, they traded for their former backup point guard, Steve Nash. He made an instant impact, as his 15.5 points and 11.5 assists per game lead the Suns to a 62-20 record, eventually losing to the San Antonio Spurs in the Western Conference Finals. The Spurs would go on to beat the Pistons in the NBA Finals that year. Nash won the MVP over O’Neal, most likely due to the turnaround of the Suns. But Phoenix’s system was designed specifically for Nash to touch the ball nearly every possession and keep his assist numbers high.
With players such as Amar’e Stoudemire, Joe Johnson, and Quentin Richardson surrounding him, Nash could just pass the ball and let the rest happen. His scoring numbers would increase the following season, and he would win a second MVP in a row.
Kobe Bryant, 2006
A year after posting the best record in the NBA, the Suns regressed some, finishing 54-28, third-best in the Western Conference. Star power forward Amar’e Stoudemire missed all but three games with knee injuries, but Phoenix still made the playoffs. Small forward Shawn Marion was a big reason for this, along with Steve Nash.Nash averaged 18.8 points and 10.5 assists per game and won the MVP award for a second straight season.
In the first round of the playoffs, the Suns found themselves down three games to one against the Los Angeles Lakers. Phoenix made a miraculous comeback, eventually reaching the Western Conference Finals, where they fell to the Dallas Mavericks. While Nash’s season was impressive, the Lakers’ Kobe Bryant was more deserving of the award.
Coming off of a 34-48 record, the Lakers surrounded their star player with talents such as Lamar Odom, Kwame Brown, Chris Mihm, and the infamous Smush Parker. Not exactly an All-Star starting lineup. Despite a weak overall roster, the Lakers were able to post a 45-37 record and return to the playoffs.
Although they blew a 3-1 lead to the Suns in the first round of the playoffs, it was an impressive comeback season for Los Angeles, thanks to the superhuman efforts of Bryant. He averaged 35.4 points, 5.3 rebounds, 4.5 assists, and 1.8 steals per game. The highlight of his regular season came on January 22nd, 2006, when he scored 81 points, leading the Lakers to a 122-104 victory over the Toronto Raptors.
Bryant’s 35.4 points per game average ranks eighth all-time in NBA history. Lamar Odom finished second on the team in scoring, with 14.8 per game. Incredible stats aside, Bryant led a poor team to the playoffs and nearly upset the Pacific Division champion Suns. Nash had a good season for sure, but Bryant deserved the MVP in more ways than one.
Charles Barkley, 1990
Magic Johnson is one of the NBA’s all-time greats, winning five championships and three MVPs with the Lakers. After leading the Lakers to 63 wins during the 1989-1990 season, Johnson won the MVP award. He scored 22.3 points per game while adding 11.5 assists and 6.6 rebounds. Los Angeles was upset in the second round of the playoffs by the Phoenix Suns, a disappointing end to a promising season.
With a roster that included James Worthy, Byron Scott, A.C. Green, Mychal Thompson, Orlando Woolridge, and Vlade Divac, the Lakers were expected to return to the NBA Finals. Johnson would play one more season before retiring due to health reasons.
Although Johnson turned in an impressive campaign, Charles Barkley deserved the MVP for his contributions to the Philadelphia 76ers’ 53-29 season. Barkley was a one-man wrecking crew, averaging 25.2 points and 11.5 rebounds per game.
In the playoffs, the 76ers defeated the Cavaliers, before falling to Michael Jordan’s Chicago Bulls. While Johnson had Hall of Fame talent surrounding him, Barkley had only one teammate who ever made an All-Star game; Hersey Hawkins in 1991.
The ‘V” in MVP stands for “Valuable”. If Johnson was taken off of the Lakers, they would still have a bevy of talented players. Without Barkley, the 76ers would have been one of the NBA’s worst teams. The fact that they were able to win 53 games speaks volumes to Barkley’s immense impact.
The NBA MVP award is one of the most prestigious in all of professional sports. Throughout its history, many races have come down to the wire. So far this season, top contestants include LeBron James, Stephen Curry, and James Harden. Perhaps one of these players will join the ones on this list for being snubbed.