The latest blog entry from my favorite hoops sports commentator (Bill Simmons) is titled, Down with the OJ Mayo Era, and talks about how the NBA today is more focused on “individual spectacularism” than fundamental team play. Call it Vince Carter vs. the Phoenix Suns. The following quote sums up Bill's blog entry quite succinctly:
The sport of basketball is headed for a crossroads of sorts, personified by the fact that Kobe Bryant's recent streak of 50-point games received far more national attention than the incredible Suns-Mavs game two weeks ago. Nobody wants to be the next Steve Nash; everyone wants to be the next LeBron James, the next Gilbert Arenas, the next Vince Carter. Those guys make the most money and get the most magazine covers and commercials. Just look at what happened to LeBron's all-around game when he reached the pros -- blessed with an innate passing gene that gave him a choice between becoming the next Magic or the next MJ, he said "Screw it, I'm going for my points" and went the MJ route. I will always be disappointed about that choice.
I think Simmon's argument is spot on, that there is too much emphasis on the highlight reel today rather than the team (although parts of it sound like an old man waxing poetic about how truly wonderful the good ol' days were). Sure, 10, 20, 30 years ago, players would hotdog for the fans, for the sports highlights, but there was still a sense of team. Of the importance of winning, of trusting your team mates, of caring about the outcome of the game. To paraphrase White Men Can't Jump, previously it seems that players would rather look bad and win, than look good, but lose, but not so much today. It makes you wonder that during Kobe's 50+ point streak, if given the choice, “Score 50 and lose, or score 28 and win,” which option he'd pick.
I think this sentiment can best be described by a sports interview I once saw with Isiah Thomas. He was talking about their two championship seasons and while they were watching footage, Zeke broke down and a few tears escaped. He tried to explain it, the feelings and emotions that stemmed from coming together as a team, busting it all year long, facing adversity, tough loses, and so on, and then winning it all, being the champions. There was no talk of “gettin' his,” MVP awards, and so on. It was all about how a group of 12 guys came together, worked hard, trusted in one another, and, together, made it to a higher plane. That's what I'm talking about, and that's what, I imagine, Bill is talking about, too.
Random closing note: check out Henry Abbott's TrueHoop blog if you haven't already. Updated very frequently with great links, interesting commentary, and witty analysis.
With Kobe's unhuman-like play over the past week or so - ratcheting 50+ points in four consecutive games - there's been some discussion among sports writers/radio show hosts that, mayhap, Kobe should be included in the MVP discussions alongside Dirk and Nash (and possibly LeBron). While Kobe is clearly the most valuable player on the Lakers, I agree with those that think the MVP for the League should favor those coming from top-tier, winning teams. Yes, the Lakers are going to make the playoffs (barring any end-of-season collapse), but there is a clear separation between the Lakers and the Mavs, Spurs, and Suns.
My vote for MVP is Dirk Nowitzki. He's the leading player on the winningest team and while some may think he shrinks under pressure, let's not forget he has had plenty of games where he has demanded the ball at the end of the game and made the big shot. (Game 7 of the playoff series against the Spurs last year, anyone?)
To be honest, I do like Steve Nash for MVP, too, but I cannot recommend him in good faith for the simple reason that MJ was never allowed to win three consecutive MVPs and therefore I think it would be utter hoops blashphemy to let Steve Nash win it three years in a row. Yes, Steve is good, but he never has and never will be on par with Michael. For one thing, he has yet to win a championship, and yet has won the MVP twice. Michael was snubbed in the 1992-1993 season (Barkley won it) and the 1997-1998 season (Malone won it), but at least got to enjoy beating Barkley and Malone in the Finals those years.
And, finally, what about LeBron? He has had a stellar second half of the season, helping the Cavs threaten the Pistons position as top dog in the East. But I still think it's too early in his career and the Cavs are still not real contenders. Yes, both LeBron and Kobe make their team better than average, and without either of them their teams would be on par with the 76ers, Celtics, and Bobcats. Moreover, I think the Suns and Mavs would still be mid-range teams without Nash and Dirk, but I am more impressed with a player who is capable of propelling his team from average to excellent than one who can move his team from sub-par to above average. That means, of course, that the MVP award (in my eyes, at least) is not strictly an individual award. So be it.