Last month, James Harden made headlines by suggesting the “media narrative” surrounding Giannis Antetokounmpo cost him a second consecutive MVP award. That's not such an incendiary take all by itself. Indeed, media coverage of the league influences public perception, and a select number of media members help decide which players win postseason awards. But Harden's comments were more pointed than those self-evident realities, as he indicated his belief that the media intentionally downplayed his accomplishments while amplifying Antetokounmpo's.
Most Houston Rockets fans, who have been clinging to the notion there's a media bias against Harden since Russell Westbrook, then with the Oklahoma City Thunder, won MVP in 2017, agree with him. But it's not just Harden and team followers who hold that opinion. Owner Tilman Fertitta, as he made clear during an interview with Sports Illustrated, does, too.
After losing out on the MVP award to Giannis Antetokounmpo, James Harden blamed the media for influencing the votes.@TilmanJFertitta joined @SInowLIVE to defend his all-star and whether or not Harden should be considered in the same league as Michael Jordan pic.twitter.com/Wx4w4gc6yV
— Sports Illustrated (@SInow) September 25, 2019
Harden was absolutely brilliant last season, pushing the limits of efficiency and usage past what was previously thought possible. He averaged 36.1 points, 6.6 rebounds, 7.5 assists, and 2.0 steals per game last season, posting a stellar true shooting percentage of 61.6. Harden took his signature step-back three-pointer to a new degree of effectiveness, leveraging that improvement to get all the way to the rim seemingly at will where he'd finish, get fouled, or find teammates for open triples. It was one of the most impressive individual offensive efforts in recent memory.
But Antetokounmpo was also the singular driving force behind a top-four offense, and was also named First Team All-Defense. His all-around numbers were similarly staggering, and the Milwaukee Bucks were far and away the best team in basketball during the regular season. Team effectiveness, remember, has historically loomed large in MVP voting.
James Harden had an MVP case; Antetokounmpo's was just better.