The NBA’s Most Valuable Player award is the highest individual accolade that a player can receive. Since Bob Petit lifted the first-ever MVP trophy in 1956, there have been countless MVP worthy seasons. However, there have been some seasons where the award was given to the wrong candidate. Here are some of the biggest MVP snubs in league history.
All statistics courtesy of Basketball-Reference.com
Honorable Mention: 1969 – Willis Reed
1969 had one of the strangest MVP selections ever. Wes Unseld became just the second player ever (after Wilt Chamberlain) to win the MVP in his rookie year. Unseld averaged 14 points and 18 rebounds for the year, leading the Bullets to a 57 win season. As a 6’6 center, he was known as a below-average defender, in a time before blocks and steals were recorded. Meanwhile, Reed averaged 21 points and 14.5 rebounds on a Knicks team that won 54 games. Reed then went on to sweep Unseld and the Bullets in the playoffs, showing voters who truly deserved the award.
No. 5 – 1970 – Jerry West
While Willis Reed missed out on the 1969 award, he undeservingly received the 1970 MVP trophy. Reed averaged similar numbers from the previous season, with 22 points, 2 assists, and 14 rebounds per game while shooting 51% from the field on a 60 win team. There isn’t even a case for Reed to be the runner up in this scenario, as a rookie Kareem Abdul-Jabbar averaged around 7 points, 2 assists, and half a rebound more. This was while shooting slightly more efficiently on a 56 win Bucks team.
However, no one was more deserving than Jerry West. West dragged a Lakers roster that had lost Wilt Chamberlain to a season-ending injury early on to the second seed in the West. He had averages of 31 points, 7.5 assists, and 4.5 assists per game, shooting a hair under 50% from the field. Although the Knicks would go on to beat the Lakers in the finals, West was robbed of his best chance to win an MVP.
No. 4 – 2006 – Kobe Bryant
Kobe Bryant has the accolades and the statistics to back him up as one of the greatest players of all time. However, regular-season MVPs are perhaps the biggest hit to his legacy, with Bryant having only one MVP. This does not stack up well compared to other greats like Jordan (5), Lebron(4), and Abdul-Jabbar (6).
However, there is a larger case that Bryant should have won the 2006 MVP over Steve Nash. On a 54 win Suns team, Nash put up a stellar 19 points, 10.5 assists, 4 rebounds, and just below 1 steal per game. Meanwhile, Bryant carried a joke of a Lakers team to 45 wins and put up 35.5 points, 4.5 assists, 5.3 rebounds, and nearly two assists a game. Bryant may not have achieved as much team success, as the Lakers were the 7 seed. However, Bryant put up those numbers and dragged Chris Mihm, Smush Parker, and Kwame Brown to the playoffs. It was an incredible feat and should have been rewarded with an MVP.
No. 3 – 1973 – Kareem Abdul-Jabbar
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar has the most MVPs in NBA history with 6, but he should have 7 or 8. Coming off of back to back MVPs, Abdul-Jabbar led the Bucks to 60 wins in 1973, averaging 30 points, 16 rebounds, and 5 assists per game in the process. He also shot 55% from the field.
However, the award was given to Dave Cowens of the 66 win Boston Celtics. Cowens put up just 20.5 points, 16 rebounds, and 4 assists a game. In addition to averaging 10 fewer points a game, he also shot 10% worse from the field, at 45%. This was poor for a center. This decision looks even worse when you consider Win Shares, a statistic that shows an individual’s contribution to the team winning. Cowens had 12 win shares, which was nothing compared to the 22 win shares that Abdul-Jabbar racked up. It is clear that this award should have been awarded to Abdul-Jabbar.
No. 2 – 1990, 1993, 1997 – Michael Jordan
Michael Jordan is widely regarded as the greatest player of all time, with 6 rings, 6 finals MVPs, 5 MVPs, and countless All-Star and All-NBA selections. It is important to note that there was not just one, but three seasons where Jordan was robbed of MVP.
1989/1990 was a season in which Magic Johnson took home his third MVP award. This was on a Lakers team that had the league’s top record. He received the award with averages of 22 points, 11.5 assists, 6.5 rebounds, 1.5 steals, and nearly 4 turnovers a game. In terms of efficiency, he shot 48% from the field and 38.5% from three. While these show that Johnson did have a great season, it is hard to justify that they were better than Jordan’s season, leading the Bulls to the second best record in the East.
He put up an incredible 33.5 points, 6.5 assists, 7 rebounds, 3 steals, and 3 turnovers per contest. This was with higher efficiency, shooting the ball at 52.5% clip from the field, and a slightly lower 37.5% from three. While Johnson put up great numbers on the best team in the league, it is clear that Jordan was the best player in the league that season.
1993 was Charles Barkley’s first season on the Phoenix Suns. He produced a terrific debut season, with 25.6 points, 12 rebounds, 5.5 assists and 1.5 steals per contest. However, he should not have even finished in the top three. Hakeem Olajuwon had slightly better offensive numbers on the second best team in the West, while also averaging 2 steals and a ridiculous 4 blocks a night. While these are great statlines, Jordan outperformed them both. On a second seed Bulls team, he averaged 32.5 points, 6.5 rebounds and 5.5 assists. When considering both offense and defense, Jordan seems the right pick here, closely followed by Olajuwon.
Karl Malone won the MVP award this year due to voter fatigue. Jordan had already taken home 4 MVP awards at this point, and there was no reason he should not have taken the 1997 award home. He led Chicago to 69 wins, good for best in the league. He put up 29.5 points, 6 rebounds, and 4.5 assists in the process. On a Utah team that won 5 fewer games, Malone put up a solid 27.5 points, 10 rebounds, and 4.5 assists per game. Jordan also had slightly better advanced numbers when looking at Plus-Minus and VORP. While this may not seem as clear cut as the previous years, it is still obvious that the award should have gone to Jordan.
No. 1 – 1962 – Wilt Chamberlain
The 1962 MVP race was perhaps the most contested and most controversial in league history. For starters, Bob Petit averaged 31 points and 18.5 rebounds a game, while Elgin Baylor put up 38.5 points and 18.5 rebounds a game. Neither was even voted top three for MVP voting this year, a true testament to the seasons that Oscar Robertson and Wilt Chamberlain had. Robertson became the first-ever player to average a triple-double for an entire season, with absurd stats of 31 points, 12.5 rebounds and 11.5 assists per game. However, Chamberlain made these numbers look measly with numbers that have never come close to being matched.
He averaged an insane 50.5 points, 25.5 rebounds, and 2.5 assists per game. This was while being the only MVP candidate that season to shoot above 50% from the field. But somehow, he did not take the trophy home. Instead, it was awarded to Bill Russell, who had significantly lower averages with 19 points and 23.5 rebounds per game. While Russell’s Celtics did win 11 more games than Chamberlain’s Warriors, there is still little justification for Russell to have won the MVP award that year.