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The most unlikely regular season MVP in NBA history

To this day, people still gripe over the 2011 NBA Most Valuable Player vote.

The award went to Chicago Bulls guard Derrick Rose, who, at that time, was an ascending superstar who was just getting started on what appeared to be a very promising NBA career.

Rose was exciting. He was explosive. He was becoming his generation’s Allen Iverson.

The fact that Rose was in the MVP conversation obviously made sense. After all, he averaged 25 points and 7.7 assists per game and led the Bulls to the best record in the NBA.

But nine years later, Rose is still considered one of the most unlikely MVPs in league history.

Why? Well, because there was another certain superstar playing in South Beach by the name of LeBron James, who posted better numbers and probably should have won the award that season.

Now, we can do this for a lot of MVP awards. There is almost always some sort of deliberation as to who the Most Valuable Player really is and as to what the parameters actually are. Is it the best player on the best team? Is it the guy who puts up the best stats? What exactly does the MVP award entail?

But few MVPs have ever caused so many eye rolls across America as Rose, who clearly was not as dominant of a force as James even at that stage. That was then proven in the playoffs, when LeBron and the Heat beat Rose’s Bulls in five games in the Eastern Conference Finals.

Of course, the MVP is a regular-season award, but many felt that James’ performance in that series validated his case for actually being the league’s top player during the 2010-11 campaign.

James registered 26.7 points, 7.5 rebounds and seven assists per game that year and shot 51 percent from the floor. Fantastic numbers, indeed. It should be noted that he was playing alongside of Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, so that may have hurt his case, but it also didn’t stop voters from giving LeBron back-to-back MVP awards in 2012 and 2013.

Could voter fatigue have been a problem? Possibly.

James won his first couple of MVP awards in Cleveland in 2009 and 2010, so perhaps Rose taking home the honor in 2011 was essentially him playing the role of Karl Malone to LeBron’s Michael Jordan in 1997.

Heck, a legitimate argument can be made that this article should really be about Malone, but Malone was truly spectacular in 1997, recording 27.4 points and 9.9 boards a night while making 55 percent of his field-goal attempts.

That isn’t to say that Rose wasn’t brilliant in 2011, because he wasn’t, but he wasn’t quite as good as Malone was in his respective MVP campaign.

In 2020, Rose’s 2011 MVP seems like a distant memory. His career has been derailed by injuries, which began in 2012 when he played in just 39 games during the lockout-shortened regular season and then tore his ACL in the playoffs.

Since then, Rose has bounced around between several different NBA teams, and while he sometimes shows brief flashes of his former glory (e.g. scoring 50 points with the Minnesota Timberwolves in a November game last season), it’s clear that he is barely even a shell of his former self, lacking the explosiveness that once made him such an exhilarating force.

Maybe that’s why so many people today are still so hung up on that MVP that occurred nearly a decade ago. If Rose went on to stay healthy and continue his level of play, perhaps people would show more respect for his 2011 award.

It doesn’t help Rose’s case that James is still going strong, remaining an MVP candidate even at the age of 35.

To be fair, the 2011 MVP vote stirred up controversy right off the bat, so it’s not like this is a discussion that just came about because of how much Rose has tailed off. But I do think Rose’s fall has played a role in keeping the conversation going.

There is no denying how good Rose was back then. Yes, he lacked a consistent perimeter jumper, and his overall refinement left something to be desired. He also wasn’t much of a defender (I guess I’m kind of making the case against him, huh?). But he had every defender on skates. His body control was unbelievable. He was like a less violent, more under control version of Russell Westbrook (not quite as explosive, but close).

But no matter how much we laud Rose for his play in his early days, there is also little question that James was better. But hey, LeBron has four MVP awards under his belt, so maybe we should just let 2011 go and let Rose have his moment in the sun?