The MVP Award is of major significance to NBA players and fans. It is intended to honor the most valuable player in the league for a season with the highest individual honor there is. A look back over previous MVP winners gives us a snapshot into a different basketball era, a chance to see which players were truly the most dominant of their time, and the same will be done with our current era in the future, when people look back and see players like Stephen Curry and LeBron James’ names listed for the award.
It comes as no surprise, then, that there is significant controversy and debate almost every year the award is issued. A spot in history is at stake, and it’s no surprise that players take the award very seriously. With that, there are many times in the NBA’s history that the panel of voters has selected someone that a large chorus of voices around the league has disagreed with.
A common theme you might notice in this list, and as a larger trend in the NBA, is that defense is undervalued. Players like LeBron James, Michael Jordan, and Kobe Bryant are undoubtedly some of the greatest ever, for their scoring and for their dominant defense, but as we’ll see, were sometimes underappreciated in their time, despite some incredible steal numbers that unfortunately often do not tell the complete story. Often, smooth scoring fan favorites climb to the top of the MVP ballots at the expense of a true two-way player.
With all that in mind, lets take a look at the 15 Biggest MVP Snubs In NBA History…
15. Kobe Bryant In 2006-07
MVP: Dirk Nowitzki
This lists starts with a familiar name when it comes to MVP griping: Kobe Bryant. Bryant fans will cite his single MVP award as disgraceful and others hope his lack of MVP awards compared to other greats—Michael Jordan has five—won’t significantly tarnish the legacy of an all-time great player. One of the more recent snubs for Bryant came in 2007, when many of his fans think MVP voters were wowed by Dirk Nowitzki’s smooth offensive dominance and failed to account for Kobe’s ability on both ends of the court.
And it wasn’t even that Kobe had a poor offensive year, in fact, the opposite is true. Bryant led the league with an average of 31.6 points per game, compared to Dirk’s 24.6, yet Bryant only received two MVP votes.
14. Jason Kidd In 2001-02
MVP: Tim Duncan
Tim Duncan’s back to back MVP wins in the early 2000s were a sign of what was to come for the Spurs forward, who went on to have one of the most consistently dominant careers we’ve ever seen in the NBA. However, his first MVP win was a controversial one, as many would have thought Jason Kidd would run away with the award. Duncan won 57 to 45 in voting, but Jason Kidd’s season with the Nets will go down as legendary. Kidd arrived in New Jersey that offseason and had an instant impact, transforming the Nets from cellar-dwellers to NBA finals contenders in less than a season’s time, posting great all-around numbers and making a huge impact on the franchise.
13. Chris Paul In 2007-08
MVP: Kobe Bryant
It’s ironic that a player like Kobe Bryant—who will feature later on this list as an MVP snub and only won one MVP over his career—is infamous for controversially beating out Chris Paul for the one MVP Bryant did win. Many consider the 2008 award given to Kobe to be a recognition of a great career and several great recent seasons that did not earn him the MVP title, rather than a true, objective view of who the most valuable player in basketball was that season, as many would argue for Chris Paul.
Paul led the then New Orleans Hornets to a second place finish in the regular season Western conference standings and dominated on both side of the ball with his distributing (11.6 assists per game) and defensive ability (2.7 assists per game). However, it was evidently Kobe’s turn for the prestigious award, and the best Paul could do was finish second in MVP voting that year.
12. James Harden In 2014-15
MVP: Stephen Curry
If he doesn’t win it this year, James Harden may go down as a great player doomed never to win the MVP award due to the firepower in the league during the prime of his career. Since leaving his sixth-man role in Oklahoma City to join the Houston Rockets, Harden has been in the MVP conversation every season for his individual efforts propelling the Rockets to playoff appearances, but due to the existence of Kevin Durant and Steph Curry, he has yet to claim an MVP award. Many felt his 2014-2015 campaign deserved the award, as he averaged 27.4 points per game compared to Curry’s 23.8, but Steph’s historic dominance from behind the three-point line charmed voters into giving the Warrior’s guard the award.
11. Charles Barkley In 1989-90
MVP: Magic Johnson
With his current role as NBA analyst on TNT, today’s fans can forget just how dominant Charles Barkley was as a player. An undersized power forward, with his height generously listed as 6’6″, Barkley was incredibly strong, powerful, and tenacious on the boards and in the paint, going down as one of the greatest basketball players of all time. He won the MVP award in 1993, but many would argue he deserved to win it first in 1990 after an impressive season saw him put up 25.2 points and 11.5 rebounds per game, leading the Philadelphia 76ers to a 59-23 record, good for first place in their division.
Magic Johnson won the award, with another impressive late-career season statistically, averaging a double-double. But after already winning MVP twice in the last three season, many felt Barkley’s season deserved the recognition.
10. Shaquille O’Neal In 2000-01
MVP: Allen Iverson
This isn’t the only time Shaq will appear on this list. The most dominant center of his generation has complained multiple times about only winning one MVP award over the course of his career, winning in 2000. However, many feel his followup campaign was almost as dominant and deserved the MVP award over the admittedly electrifying Allen Iverson.
Shaq posted an incredible 28.7 points per game along with 12.7 points per game, and was very near unstoppable near the basket, as well as on defense where he posted nearly three blocks per game. Iverson had a great season himself, with over 31 points per game, but didn’t have the highest field goal percentage at .420. Shaq and Kobe Bryant were simply dominant on their way to their second of three straight championships.
9. Jerry West In 1969-70
MVP: Willis Reed
Jerry West is an all-time great player, who unfortunately never managed to take home the honor of Most Valuable NBA Player. The Lakers combo guard built a career around being a clutch, hardworking player, but always seemed to fall short of the NBA’s top individual honor.
His closest year, and one where West himself has been quoted saying he should have won, came in 1970, where he was edged out by Willis Reed 498-457 in the ballot. West had himself another great season that year, with 31.2 points per game, 4.6 rebounds per game, and 7.5 assists per game, but it evidently wasn’t enough for the 14-time all-star and eventually Hall of Fame guard.
8. Kobe Bryant In 2005-06
MVP: Steve Nash
There is much debate in the NBA over the nature of the MVP award. Should it be spread around a bit, an award that reflects multiple great players over a generation and honors great breakout seasons? Or should it be handed to the best player in basketball each year, making it more of a given that players like Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant, and LeBron James win it year after year?
Kobe Bryant certainly wishes it had been the latter. Despite a legendary career and clear place among the top ten players ever to play the game, Bryant only won one MVP award over his career. Perhaps his most notable snub came in 2006, where Bryant lost to the popular Steve Nash, despite averaging 35.4 points per game over an incredible season.
7. Michael Jordan In 1988-89
MVP: Magic Johnson
With a player as good as Jordan, you can pretty safely say that almost any year over most of his career he didn’t win the MVP is, in some way, a sub. However, the 1989 MVP award going to Magic Johnson instead of the rapidly rising Jordan is a very controversial decision. Jordan and the Bulls hadn’t quite figured it all out yet, but his numbers were staggering. Jordan totaled 32.5 points per game, and added 8 rebounds and 8 assists per contest while leading the Bulls to a 47-35 record.
While Magic had impressive stats, averaging over 22 points and over 12 assists per game, Jordan was hitting his prime as the most dominant scorer the NBA had ever seen and was clearly the best player in basketball that year, and many think the MVP award was more a tip of the hat to Magic, who was nearing the end of his own all-time great career.
6. Oscar Robertson In 1961-62
MVP: Bill Russell
In this season’s MVP race, many are picking Oklahoma City Thunder guard Russell Westbrook and arguing that his incredible feat of averaging a triple-double for the season deserves MVP recognition. Should this statistical dominance automatically qualify him?Well, ask Oscar Robertson how that worked out for him. 1962, the year Robertson averaged a triple-double, a historic feat many thought would never be replicated, marked Celtic’s great Bill Russell’s first of three straight MVP awards. Many basketball fans think Robertson or Wilt Chamberlain, who finished third or second, should have won instead.
Robertson averaged 30.8 points per game, 12.5 rebounds per game, and 11.4 assists per game while leading the Cincinnati Royals to a 43-37 record, fourth best in the league. However, he wound up finishing third in the overall MVP vote.
5. Dwight Howard In 2010-11
MVP: Derrick Rose
Rose’s MVP season will go down as one of the most controversial ones in recent memory, as not one but two players had very convincing cases to win the award. While Rose did have an impressive season and did do a lot for the city of Chicago, he had a much better supporting cast around him, and many would argue he was less important to his team’s success than Dwight Howard.
Howard was a one-man wrecking crew on both ends of the court during the 2010-2011 season. He scored 22.9 points per game, grabbed 14.1 rebounds, and was perhaps most valuable for his defense, with an average of 2.4 blocks per game and a presence that terrified the rest of the league’s big men. He led the Magic to a 52-30 season and a playoff berth with little to no supporting cast to speak of.
4. LeBron James In 2010-11
MVP: Derrick Rose
LeBron James not winning the 2011 MVP award can be attributed to a few things. Derrick Rose’s unique and exciting season, of course, led to him winning the award, but LeBron’s play was statistically almost the same as the previous two years, where he won two MVP’s, and the following two years, where he also won the award twice. What prevented him from winning five straight MVP awards is probably the dip in James’ popularity following his much-publicized move to Miami during the 2010 off-season.
James was villainized around the league for “The Decision”, and embraced a new role in Miami as the angry center of a stacked Heat team. The MVP voters evidently thought that was enough for them to consider a new most valuable player, despite another dominant season from James, despite the new uniform.
3. Michael Jordan In 1996-97
MVP: Karl Malone
Michael Jordan is the greatest basketball player of all-time. While LeBron is building his case as his career winds down, Jordan is still currently king. And his five MVP awards over a decade reflect his continued dominance of the league. However, many basketball fans feel he should have had more.
The 1997 MVP award went to Karl Malone. Sure, Malone was a dominant power forward and an all-time great, and put up a huge statistical season. But Jordan put an injured Bulls’ squad on his back and led them to an incredible 69-13 record, putting up 29.6 ppg, 5.3 rpg, and 4.3 apg in the process. Oh, and when the two teams met in the playoffs, Jordan had the last laugh as Chicago cruised to victory.
2. Shaquille O’Neal In 2004-05
MVP: Steve Nash
This one is a sore spot for Shaq, as he’s repeatedly griped since his retirement. The Diesel took home one MVP award over his career—a win in 2000 during his dominant Lakers run—but is upset he didn’t earn more. He has a point. Steve Nash, with his long hair, fancy passes, and exciting Phoenix offense may have blinded MVP voters to Shaq’s steady, continued dominance. Playing for the Miami Heat, Shaq was unguardable near the basket and put up 22.9 points per game and 10.4 rebounds per game. Nash had a good season, to be sure, with a solid 15.5 points per game and 11.5 assists per game, but wasn’t anywhere near the dominant court presence Shaq was at that point in his career.
1. Wilt Chamberlain In 1961-62
MVP: Bill Russell
There are a few theories as to why Wilt Chamberlain lost the 1962 MVP race to Bill Russell. Some say Wilt was too selfish, or not popular enough among players, or point to Russell’s Celtics and their higher win total. However, it’s tough to overlook Chamberlain’s absolutely monstrous stats. He averaged a staggering 50.4 points per game with a shooting percentage over .500, picked up 25.7 rebounds per night, and averaged a staggering 48.5 minutes per game, despite there being only 48 minutes in a regulation basketball game (Wilt is rumored to have only taken eight minutes off the entire season, when he was ejected).
Chamberlain’s massive statistical output, coupled with the fact that his size (7’1″) and insane athleticism (40+ inch vertical) would doubtless make him a force to be reckoned with in today’s NBA, not to mention the much smaller and less athletic league of the 1960’s, make him the biggest MVP snub in NBA history.
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