Michael Jordan is the undisputed best player of his generation and is arguably the best player of all-time. He was named league MVP five times and that might not have been enough.
In his second year in the league, Jordan finished sixth in MVP voting. From that point until his final season with the Bulls, Jordan either won the award or finished top-three in voting.
Let’s begin by saying Jordan deserved all five MVP awards that he received during his career. Now, we will take a look at the other years that Jordan did not finish at the top.
Magic Johnson era
1986-1987: Winner- Magic Johnson, Runner-Up- Michael Jordan
This was Jordan’s third season in the league and he put up the best numbers by far. He played in all 82 games and averaged 40 minutes per night. Jordan put up 37.1 points per game on 48% from the field. He added 2.9 steals and 1.5 blocks per game. Jordan seems like a no-brainer until you look at his team as a whole. The Bulls finished 40-42. The other problem is he was up against prime Magic who averaged 23.9 points and a league-leading 12.2 assists per contest. Hard to take the award away from Magic in this one.
1988-1989: Winner- Magic Johnson, Runner-Up, Michael Jordan
After winning MVP during the 1987-1988 season, Jordan finished second to Magic once again. Similarly to the first go around, Jordan’s statistical dominance cannot be disputed, but Chicago’s production as a whole fell short. Jordan had once of his best all-around seasons averaging 32.5 points, eight rebounds, and eight assists. He logged 10 triple-doubles in an 11-game span in the final month of the season. The Bulls finished sixth in the East with a record of 47-35. This was 10 games behind Magic’s Los Angeles Lakers who were the top seed in the West. Magic had another big year with 22.5 points and 12.8 assists per night.
1989-1990: Winner- Magic Johnson, Runner-Up- Charles Barkley, Third Place- Michael Jordan
Barkley finished with the most first place votes this season but Magic once again took home the award. He led the Lakers to the best record in basketball without Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, who retired the year before. Jordan had the Bulls much improved as they finished 55-27. He won his fourth straight scoring title averaging 33.6 pints and a league-leading 2.8 steals per game. After this season, it was obvious that Jordan was ready to take over the league, but Magic once again deserved this MVP award.
The Big Man Takeover
Jordan took home back-to-back MVP’s in the 1990-1991 and 1991-1992 seasons. He added two more scoring titles to make it six in a row. From this moment on, the big men started to take over.
1992-1993: Winner- Charles Barkley, Runner-Up- Hakeem Olajuwon, Third Place- Michael Jordan
Maybe it was team success, maybe the votes were tired of naming Jordan MVP. Whatever the reason, the league saw a window to name another player with the league’s most prestigious award and they did just that. Barkley arrived in Phoenix and turned the Suns into contenders immediately. They finished first in the West with 62 wins. Jordan and the Bulls were second in the East with 57 wins but numbers speak for themselves. He won the scoring title yet again with 32.6 points and led the league in steals with 2.8. Jordan was coming off back-to-back MVP awards while leading the Bulls to back-to-back championships.
Jordan would get his revenge in the NBA Finals where he led the Bulls to a 4-2 victory over Barkley’s Suns. He averaged 41 points in the series and was named Finals’ MVP. This was his third straight Bill Russell award and it should have been paired with his third straight league MVP award.
1996-1997: Winner- Karl Malone, Runner-Up- Michael Jordan
Following the 1992-1993 season, Jordan retired for the first time to play baseball. In his absence, Hakeem Olajuwon and David Robinson continued the trend of big men winning MVP. Jordan would return for a full season in 1995-1996 and lead the Bulls to a 72-10 season. He landed his fourth MVP award after the season. In 1996-1997, Jordan was robbed by Malone.
The Bulls went 69-13 this season which was five games better than Malone’s Utah Jazz. Utah won 24 of their final 26 games heading into the postseason which could have led to Malone’s winning the award. This does not change the fact that Jordan led the league in scoring for the ninth time with 29.6 points per game. Once again, Jordan would get his revenge with a 4-2 victory in the NBA Finals. He averaged 32.3 points including 38 in what is known as “The Flu Game.”
Jordan won the award five times and they were all deserving. If there is one that could be questioned, it is the 1987-1988 season. Jordan edged out both Magic and Larry Bird this season. He scored a league-high 35 points per game and finished with 3.2 steals as well. Jordan swept the season by winning MVP, All-Star Game MVP, and Defensive Player of the year.
The Bulls finished 50-32 this season which was seven games behind the Boston Celtics and 12 games behind the Lakers. It is hard to argue against Jordan’s individual performance while leading his team to 50 wins. This is the most questionable award that Jordan won, but he was still deserving.
Jordan won the MVP award five times in his career which is tied for second most all-time with Russell. Abdul-Jabbar has the most awards all-time with six while LeBron James and Wilt Chamberlain have four. If the voting was correct, Jordan should have the most all-time with seven. There is no doubt that Jordan should have won the award over Barkley in 1992-1993 and Malone in 1996-1997.
As a young and up-and-coming player, Jordan finished behind Magic three times and rightfully so. It was difficult for him to edge out the point guard on the best team in the league. Right in the middle of his prime, he was robbed twice and it could have just been the league trying to give the award to someone else. Whatever the reason, it cannot be changed. Jordan is a five-time MVP which is nothing to be ashamed of, but it should be seven.