The first and only time I was nominated for the Most Valuable Player award was when my basketball team Rascals swept the local 3-on-3 tournament and won the championship. The other nominee for the award was my younger but taller brother Norman, who played forward. He was our defensive specialist, a real hustle guy on the court who is good at reading passing lanes and deflecting passes. He was our secondary rebounder and shot-blocker next to Melvin, taller and just as lanky. Norman’s style of basketball is economical. No lengthy, fancy, and unnecessary dribbling. No careless crosscourt passes. And he was always disinclined to take reckless, circus shots for his personal entertainment or amusement. He will finish a game with a solid stat line every time.
I, on the other hand, played point—by circumstances, not by choice. I never had the dribbling savvy, the court vision, or the passing instinct. I thrived as a shooting guard, and since I can only field a team of four players in the tournament, I picked two forwards and a center.
My job was to decide (often arbitrarily) how the offense will go after the inbound. Pass it to my cousin Wendell on the post, swing the ball to the right, or make a move myself with a slashing drive or a jump shot? Among the four of us, I was the one with the range as a jump shooter and the speed as a slasher. My brother—himself gifted with solid offensive skills and great instincts—prefers making an extra pass before opting to shoot. This was our dynamic as teammates, and it helped us win several championships together.
But in all my years of playing basketball, I was in the MVP running just once, and against my brother who won it, deservingly. I was proud because he was my brother and he bested other equally talented players from other teams that are good, but not good enough to win the championship. There was no bitterness or resentment on my part because I know that among the four of us who played together, he was the most valuable in our successful pursuit of winning the championship. If we hadn’t won, the question of who is the most valuable is a moot point—we all failed in the end.
I think that experience helped me understand and simplify the concept of the MVP. Every team has one, and among them, primus inter pares: the first among equals. For me, that would be the one who won the team the championship.
This is also the reason why I think an MVP awardee from a team that didn’t win the championship is unfair to the best player of the team that won the championship. His/hers is the effort first devalued. How can a player’s performance be ranked as the most impressive, most valuable, when there is someone out there whose outstanding performance helped the team to win a championship?
I dislike the current trend of announcing the NBA MVP as a suspenseful (sometimes even controversial) event, and how I think it is rooted in a flawed system. In the NBA, a panel of basketball writers and broadcasters select the regular season MVP. This has been the practice since 1981. Before that (which would be from 1956 to 1980), the MVP was selected by the NBA players. Circling back to the current method of selecting the MVP— here’s one question: why is it done this way?
I praise the work of sports media and what it has done to affect how we enjoy sports today. But with all due respect, I think it should be data—statistics, performance, accomplishment—that should identify who is the most valuable player, not sports media.
One thing I learned as a sports writer is that sports is a numbers game. The numbers tell the story. And if sports is a numbers game, then performance—good or bad—can be defined by mathematics, unencumbered by opinions vulnerable to bias. The merit for being the most valuable player should not be affected by popularity, publicity, public and media relations, or other non-related agendas. The numbers should speak for themselves, plain and simple. And the first and most important number to consider is this: 1.
One championship won for the season. How is the effort of a player from a team who didn’t even make it to the conference finals be more valuable than the effort of the player who won his team a championship? The rationale here is this: the MVP is for regular season excellence, which I think is something that should be changed, too. Give the MVP to someone who did great from start to finish. And if, for some reason, some other player played bigger in the championship series, then make him or her the Finals MVP.
Take for example the 2013-14 NBA season. The NBA should’ve named Tony Parker the regular season MVP (which they didn’t) considering his 16.7 PPG, 5.7 APG, and 2.3 RPG averages playing for the San Antonio Spurs who had the league-best 62-20 and won the championship that year, and Kawhi Leonard the Finals MVP (which they did). This makes sense. Parker was good all year long, and Leonard was above-par during the Finals. What does not make sense is how Kevin Durant won the MVP when the league’s leading scorer plays for a team that can’t even win the Western Conference. This is not against Durant or the other MVP winners who didn’t win the championship. This is merely a criticism of a flawed system that needs to be changed.
I think the MVP award is sacred. This esteem belongs to someone who deserves it. Go ahead and name the most outstanding player for each team every season, but in the end, only a champion deserves the league MVP. If the most valuable player is not a champion, then what is the value of winning the championship? What is the value of all the effort, the hard work, and the excellence of an outstanding player who was successful in winning all the way?