Veteran sportswriter Scoop Jackson recently wrote an article for ESPN.com on the topic of whether or not Phoenix’s Steve Nash was deserving of a third-straight MVP Award.
Fellow NBA MVPs Steve Nash and Bill Russell pal around during the Suns’ training camp trip to Europe last fall.� (NBAE Photos)
Scoop’s stance was that Nash wasn’t a deserving candidate due to the fact it would put him in an illustrious – not to mention well decorated – group of NBA Champions including Bill Russell, Wilt Chamberlain and Larry Bird.
It’s indeed some elite company to say the least. Russell, a man who owns more NBA Championship rings than fingers, the mythic Chamberlain, arguably the Babe Ruth of basketball, and Bird’s clutch play having helped him become both a Hall of Famer and a two-time Finals MVP. Scoop’s perspective is that since Nash has yet to prove himself in the NBA Finals as these men did, it’s not right to include him with such elite company.
Let me first start off by saying I have all the respect in the world for Scoop Jackson as a writer and, ironically, it was his contributions to SLAM during the mid-1990s which made me want to become a sportswriter. That said, I couldn’t disagree more with Scoop on this one and I think it’s insane to discard Nash as a 2006-2007 MVP candidate because of seasons which took place prior to the 2006-2007 season.
Granted, I may be biased as an employee of the Phoenix Suns, but to deny Nash the honor based on the theory “he’s no Bill Russell” would be a true example of tainting the MVP Award. For starters, the award is based on one’s performance during the regular season and nothing but. What happened in the past and what could potentially happen in the future has no bearing on who wins the MVP Award. Otherwise, Dwyane Wade would have to be thrown into the list of potential candidates, as well. Wade’s play during last year’s postseason propelled the Miami Heat to the NBA Finals, as well as an NBA Championship. Shouldn’t he at least get a little love when it comes to the voting? Of course not. He’s been plagued by injuries this season and everybody knows prior postseason success has no impact on the league MVP Award. Nor does looking at the class that player would join by being named MVP. Would Scoop have denied Allen Iverson the 2001 MVP Award simply because he hadn’t enjoyed the postseason success fellow Philly MVPs Wilt Chamberlain, Julius Erving and Moses Malone had?
If Scoop believes Dirk Nowitzki is a more deserving candidate based on his production and contributions to the Mavericks this season, so be it. But to give him the award just because Nash hasn’t proven himself as a champion is ludicrous. What happens if Nash leads Phoenix past Dallas en route to an NBA Championship? Do you then take the award away from Dirk and give it to Steve?
And I really hope Kobe Bryant’s name isn’t being seriously considered. If you give the NBA MVP to a guy who has helped his team finish with the seventh best record in your conference, you’re opening up a mighty big can of worms. Bryant’s numbers (31.2 points, 5.6 rebounds and 5.5 assists) are not too far off the numbers of Cleveland’s LeBron James (27.5 points, 6.8 rebounds and six assists) or Washington’s Gilbert Arenas (28.4 points, 4.6 rebounds and six assists). Maybe you can argue Bryant’s numbers are better, but not to the point where James or Arenas shouldn’t even be considered.
But James and Arenas haven’t been considered because that’s what happens when your team fails to meet expectations. Cleveland was supposed to do big things after their playoff run last year and even in the Eastern Conference still failed to win 50 games. The Wizards meanwhile were struggling to stay in the middle of the playoff pack even before Arenas’ injury took place. You don’t give the Most Valuable Player Award to a guy whose team could be finishing the season below .500. Because of this, Bryant doesn’t deserve to have his name mentioned in the same breath as Nash or Nowitzki.
So what is it that gives Nash the edge over Nowitzki besides a better haircut? When the statistics are as close as theirs are, you look at three factors. The first is the position each has put their team in entering the playoffs. Dirk has helped his ballclub to a higher seed, and most importantly has put his team in a position to avoid a possible second-round matchup with the San Antonio Spurs. Dirk’s Mavs will also have homecourt advantage throughout the playoffs so the edge here easily goes to the seven-footer.
The second factor is leadership. To me, Nash is simply a better leader than Nowitzki. Even putting aside the debate of who makes their teammates better – a debate which really isn’t debatable – look at how many times Nash has carried the Suns on his back this season. Clutch shots against Golden State, New Jersey, Miami and a final minute against Dallas that fans will never forget, are why Nash gets the nod. The two-time MVP always seems to be able to do what needs to be done no matter how daunting the task and most importantly no matter how much time is left in the ballgame.
The final category is true value. You look at what the Mavericks can do without Dirk and what the Suns have done without Steve and again it isn’t even close. Without Nowitzki this season, the Mavericks are 2-0 including victories over the Denver Nuggets and Sacramento Kings. The Suns have lost their last three contests played without the services of Nash, dropping two against sub-.500 teams including the Atlanta Hawks and Seattle SuperSonics.
Some say it is crazy to vote based on games in which a guy didn’t play. That even though you oftentimes don’t appreciate someone or something until you’ve experienced life without them, it is insane for games in which a player didn’t participate to play a factor in the MVP voting.
Me? Insane? Well if that’s the case, with Scoop Jackson already there, it looks as if I’ll be joining some pretty elite company.