July 7, 2005

MVPs and NBA Champions

Being bored today I decided to look into the correlation between the Most Valuable Player Award and NBA Championship each season since 1955-56, the first year the MVP was awarded. In the 50 years the MVP has been awarded, 21 times has that player’s team gone on to championship glory. Those 21 championships are divided over 11 different MVPs. Of those 11 players, only 4 have done it more than once. Bill Russell, Kareem Adbul-jabbar, Larry Bird, and Michael Jordan have all won both awards at least two times. Jordan and Russell each completed the feat 4 times.

To give you a better understanding of how amazing a feat that is, let’s delve into this subject a little deeper. First I tried to find a pattern, to see if the development of the NBA has had any effect on the frequency of The Feat. I started by dividing the decades and figured the percentage of MVPs to win the Championship.

Percentages By Decade
50's - 20%
60's - 60%
70's - 30%
80's - 40%
90's - 60%
00's - 20%

As you can see, the results are sporadic at best, revealing no real trend developing. It goes up, it goes down, and is generally all over the place. So after mulling this over for awhile I decided to take a look at each individual player that won the MVP. How many MVPs did they win? How many Championships? This shed a little more light on the subject.

As stated above, 11 different players have won the MVP Award and the Championship in the same season. In the 50’s it was Bob Cousy. The 60’s Bill Russell, Wilt Chamberlain, and Willis Reed accomplished it. The 70’s were owned by Kareem Abdul-jabbar. It was Larry Bird, Moses Malone and Magic Johnson in the 80’s. We all know what happened in the 90’s when Michael Jordan ruled the show, but he did share the stage with Hakeem Olajuwon and Shaquille O’neal. Tim Duncan is the only player, so far, to accomplish the feat in the 21st Century. Okay. So how does this correlate with the percentages? Let’s take a look.

The 50’s and 00’s are hard to use, as they only include 5 season apiece thus far. So take them out. Now we’re down to the 60’s thru 90’s, some may say the hay day of the NBA. Look at me rhyme! Sorry, I’m easily excitable. So we look at the 60’s and the 90’s, wow, 60% of the time the MVP won the Championship too! Look at the list above, and that all makes sense. There were great players in each of those four decades. The 60’s, 80’s, and 90’s all had multiple players to win both. Hmmm….It can’t be that simple though, can it?

If you’ll recall from above – well, way above now - that there are only 4 guys to ever do it more than once. Russell, Kareem, Larry, and MJ. Celtics, Bucks/Lakers, Celtics(again), and Bulls. 60’s, 70’s, 80’s, 90’s. Aha! I think we’re onto something!

It seems that the correlation between MVPs and NBA Champions lie solely in the hands of game changing players. The four guys who’ve done it more than once, changed the way the game was played. Bill Russell showed the game how important a dominant big man can be, as he won the Championship 4 times out of 5 in the years he was the MVP. He was a freak of physical nature at the time, like Shaq is now. He was bigger, stronger, and tougher than any other player in history to that point. Oh, and did you know Red traded Ice Capades for his draft rights? Yeah, that’s a hell of a deal.

As the game grew into the 70’s, many understood how important a big man really was. Kareem showed them all that they didn’t really understand. He also showed us what happens when a big guy with an unstoppable move changes his name – and team. Lew, good ol’ Lew. The Lakers rebuilt themselves into one of the great franchises in NBA history around Kareem, and he rewarded them with dominant play for years.

By the time the 80’s rolled around, the key to an NBA Championship seemed to be having better athletes than the opposition. Moses Malone picked up where Kareem left off, and Magic Johnson showed us how great it is to have a big, athletic guard too. Larry Bird defied logic. Here’s this tall, awkward looking kid from Indiana who can’t get but 3 inches off the floor. And he crushed the league. Larry, along with Magic, showed the fans that you don’t need to be a better athlete, you just need to be smarter and work harder than your opponent. Larry won three MVPs in a row, capturing two titles in the process. All that from a blue collar, country kid out of a town named French Lick.

Towards the end of the 80’s we were shown another freak of nature in Michael Jordan. The kid could score on and jump over anyone. Anyone. He, much like Russell, showed us how important a dominant big man is be to a championship team. Or isn’t. In a stretch of 8 seasons, MJ captured 6 rings and 4 MVP trophies. At the 2-guard spot.

Each of these players dominated their respective decades by changing the way the game had to be played. Obviously these were not the only players that changed the game while they played, but they were the only players to ever win the MVP and Championship in the same season, more than once. Now do you understand how ridiculous it is to repeat an MVP/Championship season?

Correlation concluded.

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