As Lakers star LeBron James got up to walk away from his postgame media session on Friday night, after L.A. had drubbed the Nuggets in the opener of the Western Conference finals, he could be heard saying, off-camera, “Another headline for you tomorrow.” He knew he had just created a stir with his thoughts on the NBA’s MVP award, which had been given to Milwaukee’s Giannis Antetokounmpo earlier in the day. James was the runner up.
So here’s James’ headline-worthy rant:
Pissed me off. That’s my true answer. It pissed me off because out of 101 votes, I got 16 first-place votes. That’s what pissed me off more than anything. Not saying that the winner wasn’t deserving on the MVP. But that pissed me off.
I finished second a lot in my career, either as a championship or now four times as the MVP, you know, like I said, I never came into this league saying I’m gonna be MVP or be a champion, I just want to get better and better every day and those things will take care of itself. But there are some things out of your hands, some things you can’t control. But it pissed me off.
Indeed, Antetokounmpo finished with 85 first-place votes to 16 for James. In all, James received 84 second-place votes and one third-place vote, with James Harden (who finished third) receiving one third-place vote. James averaged 25.3 points, 7.8 rebounds and league-leading 10.2 assists this year, his first as a point guard.
Antetokounmpo averaged 29.5 points, 13.6 rebounds and 5.6 assists, and was the Defensive Player of the Year.
Luka Doncic was fourth in the voting and Kawhi Leonard was fifth. If there was another Lakers outrage in the tally, it was that Anthony Davis did not crack the Top 5, finishing sixth.
LeBron James Has Been MVP & Runner-Up 4 Times Each
But James, who has now been the MVP four times and the runner-up for the award four times, said that he has had some questions about what goes into voting for the MVP—and for all awards, really—for years now, and he had some examples handy.
The most notable was the race for the 2012-13 Defensive Player of the Year, which went to Marc Gasol, who had 30 first-place votes and 212 points total. James, who won MVP that year, was the runner-up, with 18 first-place voted and 149 total points. But Gasol was not a first-team All-Defense player that year.
He also pointed to this year’s Most Improved award, won by New Orleans forward Brandon Ingram. But in fifth place was Charlotte’s Devonte Graham, who garnered only two first-place votes despite a huge swing upward from last season.
Again, let’s allow James to explain:
The voting scale is a little weird to me, sometimes. If you take 2012—stick with me here—if you take 2012-13, I had a chance to be Defensive Player of the Year and MVP in the same season. That year, Marc Gasol was rewarded Defensive Player of the Year. But he made second-team All-Defense. OK, so, that does not make sense. That’s like being MVP but being second-team All-NBA. That’s when I started looking at things a little differently, like, how does that even make any sense?
I looked at Most Improved this year, and, rightfully so, Brandon Ingram was amazing and I thought he should have won it. But did you see the votes that Devonte Graham got? He averaged four points last year compared to 17.5. If that’s not improving, I don’t know what is. It’s a weird thing sometimes that, I don’t know how much we are really watching the game of basketball, or we are just in the narration mode or (voting based on) the narrative.
LeBron James: ‘I’m Fine, Don’t Get It Twisted’
Now, to be sure, James did not want to overemphasize the importance of winning the MVP—he was just questioning what goes into the voting.
And he’s wrong about the fact that the wild swings in who wins and who does not win are limited to his career. In 2001, for example, many thought Shaquille O’Neal was robbed of the MVP, losing out after a dominant season to Allen Iverson. Perhaps the greatest MVP swindle of all occurred in 1997, when Karl Malone won the award over Michael Jordan by a tight margin.
But, though the results initially left James “pissed off,” he was cool with it all by the time he met with reporters.
“I’m fine, don’t get it twisted,” he said. “I’m going back to my room, I’m perfectly fine. We’re up 1-0 in the Western Conference finals, I’m absolutely fine so don’t—I was pissed off as the reaction earlier when I saw it, absolutely great now. I’m going to go back to my room, drink some wine, and sleep very well tonight so, let’s not get it twisted. I’m great.”