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NBA MVPs Don’t Win Championships

Here’s one for you….. Since 1956, there have been a total of 55 Regular Season NBA MVPs. Of those 55, take a guess at how many went on to win the NBA Championship that same season?

Answer: Only 20.

Perhaps it’s just me, but I find it fascinating that the player who usually wins the most coveted individual award in basketball, rarely wins the even-more coveted team award. In fact, there have only been 12 different players throughout the history of the NBA to do so – Michael Jordan and Bill Russell accomplished the feat a record 4 times, Larry Bird and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar twice, and the rest of the pack once. The last player to double-dip was Tim Duncan in 2003, and prior to that, Shaquille O’Neal in 2000 – only 2 instances in the last 11 years.

There are several theories as to why MVPs have failed to win Championships. Some will claim that the MVP is a popularity contest, oftentimes awarded to the wrong player who was never as deserving to begin with. Others will point to the fact that the MVP is usually awarded to the player who gets the most out of their team, or essentially overachieves. Consequently, since they were saddled with an inferior supporting cast to begin with, they should have never been expected to win a championship. Finally, there is a 3rd group consisting of conspiracy theorists, Cubs fans, and the modern day Benjamin Button himself – Greg Oden, who would have you believe that the award is simply as “cursed” as they are.

Regardless of who you believe, one thing is apparent: history has shown that it is extremely challenging for NBA players to win both the MVP and a NBA Championship within the same season, despite the fact that the MVP is usually awarded to the “best player on the best team” during the regular season. Below are the select group of 12 players that were successful in accomplishing this rare feat. Included are stats for each relevant season, courtesy of Basketball-Reference.com:


16 Responses to “NBA MVPs Don’t Win Championships”

  1. Interesting article. I think that the MVP winners usually dont have as good a team. Just my opinion.

    Posted by jlong | March 3, 2011, 6:50 pm
  2. Hey NBA Realist, you know that by leaving your analysis to a future post you’re practically daring your readers to write it for you, right?

    I’ll resist the temptation so as to avoid stealing your thunder. Just get that future post up already so that I can respond! :-)

    Posted by E-Dog | March 4, 2011, 4:26 am
    • E-Dog: Feel free to comment. As you know, we pride oursleves on having base of readers who are also critical thinkers, and work to invoke their opinions. So you are more than welcome to offer your take.

      Posted by The NBA Realist | March 4, 2011, 9:43 am
  3. The MVP can probably be probably be predicted computationally similar to how ESPN has a Heisman predictor.

    There are a some schools of thought that can get you an MVP:
    #1- Do the most with less: You are the lone superstar on a great team. Team X without you would be a lottery team but with you are NBA contenders (btw , I hate that argument).

    #2- Statisical Oddity: Do something absurd like average 30,5,and 5 or have a game with 20 assits, drop 9 straight 40 point games, etc. You are going to have to be a LEAGUE Leader in something to get a MVP (assists, points, etc.)

    #3- Popularity and Hype: Hit a few game winners to start the season or win a few marquee games with big performances and BAM you are in the thick of the MVP performance.

    #4- Best Player in the league

    #5- Lifetime Achievement Award: Self-Explanatory.

    I list those 5 in order of importance (of course, just my opinion).

    The last thing that any MVP has to be is a top-4 seed in the conference.

    I’ve argued this many times and it comes down to it plays out this way in the past MVP and really, if the MVP isnt on a contender then how is he really the LEAGUE MVP? He’s not instrumental in the “story” of the league at the end of the season and ultimately MVP in the NBA isnt about value to “your” team as much as it is “value” to the NBA.

    Without 50 wins and the playoff stage/showcase you wont be an MVP. Sorry. The NBA does have to hype you up!

    So back to the original point, why dont MVPs win championships? I’d say if you broke down who won the MVP , you’d see it be mostly because of arguments #1 and #4.

    Just because you are the best player in the league or >>>>Better than the next best player in the league doesnt mean you will win a chip.

    Posted by Korey | March 4, 2011, 11:50 am
    • Korey,

      I had a chance to re-read your message post from awhile back and found your take regarding the requirement for an MVP to be instrumental to the league interesting. You mention that the MVP should be a contender, therefore demonstrating value not only to his team, but also to the league. I do not disagree with you.

      However, interestingly enough, there are those rare occassions in which a player does not win MVP,did the most with the least (and therefore is valuable to his team), but then surprisingly demonstrates his value once the playoffs begin. Examples are Moses Malone in 1981 and Michael Jordan in 1989. Both teams finished with mediocre to poor records, and neither of their teams would have have won anything close to the games they won without them. But once the playoffs started, they were part of some historic upsets.

      Again, not disagreeing with you, but thought it was interesting to point out.

      Posted by The NBA Realist | March 24, 2011, 9:21 pm
  4. OK NBA Realist, I accept your invite, so here goes.

    I think it’s important to distinguish between MVPs whose teams finished with the best record in the league and those whose teams didn’t. 23 MVPs fall into the latter category, and of those only 4 of them led their team to the title that year. 13 of the remaining 19 lost in the playoffs to a team with a better record (the most recent examples being Nash in ’06 and Kobe in ’08). This suggests that, most of the time, these MVPs were the main reason their team achieved as much as it did and they lost to a better team in the end. This is an entirely logical outcome.

    It gets more interesting when looking at the 32 MVPs whose teams did finish with the best record in the league. 16 of these MVPs did lead their teams to the title. That’s a lot better than 4 for 23, but it still means that even having both the MVP and the best record in the league still translates into only a 50-50 title shot. (!) What of the 16 MVPs in this category who fell short? There are a few possible explanations:

    1. Injuries-this covers ’58 (Russell missed the last 3+ games of the Finals), ’73 (Cowens was the MVP, but the Celtics were greatly hobbled by Havlicek’s shoulder separation in the East Finals), ’78 (Walton) and ’85 (Bird was hobbled by a bad back in the Finals).
    2. The MVP made the team look better than it was. This covers Kareem in ’74 and ’77, and LeBron the last two years.
    3. The MVP and his team simply choked in the playoffs. This covers ’68 (Wilt and the Sixers blew a 3-1 lead in the East Finals), ’69 (Unseld and the Bullets got swept in the East semis) and ’07 (Dirk and the Mavs losing to the Warriors in Round 1). I’m amenable to putting LeBron from last year in this category too (for the record, I don’t think he quit in Game 5, but he may have choked).
    4. The MVP wasn’t the best player, and the best player “settled the score” in the playoffs. This covers ’93 (Barkley vs. Jordan), ’95 (Robinson vs. Olajuwon) and maybe ’05 too (Nash vs. Duncan).

    That covers 14 of the 16 (I couldn’t figure out how to categorize Wilt in ’66 or Magic in ’90). I think it’s safe to say that there’s no one dominant explanation for what I admit is an odd trend.

    Posted by E-Dog | March 4, 2011, 4:44 pm
    • Seems fairly straightforward to me. The answer is variance. There are lots of great teams and players in the NBA. The MVP isn’t always the best player in the league. The best player in the league isn’t always on the best team in the league. The best team in the league doesn’t always win the title. Heck, sometimes the MVP will happen to be on a team that isn’t the best in the NBA but wins the title anyway due to variance. Look at this year’s playoffs-the Bulls have both the best record and the MVP but they have a lot of hurdles to jump to win the title and are by no means heavy favorites. I’m actually shocked that the frequency’s as high as 20/55, but Jordan and Russell were so dominant during their primes that they won almost every year while cleaning up their numerous MVP awards.

      Posted by Lochpster | May 6, 2011, 3:41 pm
  5. Stupidest article ever

    20 teams in 65 have won with the MVP, which means 45 teams of what 1300 have?

    In other words having the MVP increases your chances of winning a title from 3.5% to 31%.

    Give me the MVP any day and let the other teams hope they are one of the 3 percenters.

    Posted by pcappitelli | March 17, 2011, 5:06 pm
    • Pcappitelli – You are a complete idiot bro. First off, “teams” don’t win MVP’s – players do. So before you call another stupid, make sure your vernacular is in tact.

      Second, winning the MVP doesn’t increase any chances. Its a reflection of history, not a cause and effect. Just because you win the MVP doesn’t mean that your chances of championship increase. Just plain dumb logic.

      The point of the article was to show that MVP voting can occur in a number of ways. And that MVPs for some reason or another don’t usually win championships.

      Posted by Chauncey Gandus | March 28, 2011, 10:49 pm
      • You call him an idiot, and yet don’t understand his point.

        You say “MVPs for some reason or another don’t usually win championships.” Well guess what: MOST PLAYERS usually don’t win championships. In fact, non-MVP players are much less likely to win than MVPs, who apparently win the championship about 30% of the time.

        Posted by Meekrab | April 8, 2011, 3:48 pm
  6. It’s pretty impressive that there have been 65 MVPs since 1956, since 1956 was only 55 years ago.

    Posted by MadSammyboy | April 30, 2011, 5:43 pm


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