Who Might Win the NBA MVP, and More Importantly, Why Should You Care?
Sports are about more than championships, rivalries, and wondering whether James Dolan will ever stop turning the Knicks into the laughingstock of the NBA (spoiler alert: he won't, sorry). They're about the players and teams we follow, the stories we tell and, most importantly, the things we value.
NBA MVP races are a microcosm of that debate. They attract everything from constant sports media coverage to future Hall of Fame debates to betting on sites like Unibet which feature up to the minute odds and analysis of teams and players.
With that in mind, let's take a look at three compelling storylines you should care about in the MVP race.
1. Giannis Antetokounmpo
Let's start with the reigning MVP and one of his most important predecessors.
Lew Alcindor began his life on the national stage playing for John Wooden's legendary UCLA collegiate squads before converting to Islam and changing his name to Kareem Abdul-Jabbar in 1968. He went on to become a legend for Giannis' current team, the Bucks, as well as the Lakers, winning three MVPs with each to give him a record-setting six.
From his name change to his game-changing skyhook and public persona, Kareem embodied the changing social and NBA scene of the 60s and 70s. As the greatest foreign-born player at a time when basketball has gone global and European players are increasingly competitive against their American-born contemporaries, "The Greek Freak" already embodies so much of the conversation surrounding globalization and multiculturalism today.
What might another Giannis MVP or Finals mean globally?
2. James Harden/Russell Westbrook
We're listing these two together because with Westbrook reuniting with Harden in Houston, you know only one of them will get enough touches to merit MVP discussion. How two of the biggest shot takers in NBA history are going to coexist on the same team (or if they can actually do so) remains to be seen.
What is already clear is that this is a critical year for the two former MVPs, haunted by the Ghost of missed championships past. It looms over them like Hamlet's father, forever judging and exhorting them for their failures. Harden in particular faces a Do or Die year, having historically fizzled out come playoff time and with his Rockets having lost to the Warriors in each of their last four meetings.
The Warriors may be ghosts themselves this season with Kevin Durant departing and Klay Thompson and Steph Curry lost to injury, but their place in NBA history after five straight Finals and three wins is secure. The place of Harden, Westbrook, and the Rockets is far more uncertain.
Harden and Westbrook are already former MVP winners, scoring leaders, and stat gods.
Can either of them win the MVP?
Will anyone care if they fail to win that elusive championship in Western Conference finally free of the Warrior's dominance?Probably not.
3. LeBron James
If Giannis faces the pressures of embodying an ever more globalizing NBA and Westbrook and Harden face a desperate redemption arc, LeBron has long faced the ever-present ghost of Michael Jordan. On the one hand, it's unfair to compare the athletic and cultural impact of King James" reign now to that of His Royal Airiness in the 80s and 90s as viewed through our rose-tinted nostalgia goggles.
On the other hand, that'll happen when you're involved in never-ending rounds of "Who's of the Greatest?" while wearing #23 and starring in Space Jam 2.Then there's the specter of last season's embarrassing failure. Jordan may not have had as little help as LeBron in his Finals wins, but he also never flamed out as badly as LeBron and his Lakers did last season.
Can LeBron bounce back and prove to LA he's still King James?
Can Harden and Westbrook shake their old playoff ghosts?
Can Giannis cement his place as the new face of the NBA worldwide?
Can any of them win the Most Valuable Player award - and what does it mean to be "most valuable?"
As the saying goes, that's why they play the games - and, more to the point, that's why we care