THE regular season of the National Basketball Association isn’t even close to two-fifths done, and, already, longtime habitues have seen fit to work up a lather over Most Valuable Player candidates. In part, it’s because the pro hoops scene has become an endless source of barber shop talk; fanatics are simply unable to stop trumpeting the virtues of marquee names, especially when compared to others also burning rubber at elite levels. In larger measure, it’s due to the sheer number of legitimate choices on tap; at this point in the 2020-21 campaign, as many as nine stalwarts can be considered for the accolade.
There are the usual suspects, of course; these are the former winners and perennial contenders who cannot but be included in the short list for the award. In this group are such notables as LeBron James, Kawhi Leonard, and even Anthony Davis, Stephen Curry and Kevin Durant. And then there are those who have made a significant leap; previously on the fringes in comparison to the aforementioned heralds, their stellar play to date has granted them the privilege of being included with the best of the best. In this group are the likes of Joel Embiid, Nikola Jokic, and, yes, Rudy Gobert.
It’s perhaps no coincidence that all the MVP speculation has reached fever pitch at a time when fans are celebrating Michael Jordan’s 58th birthday. The widely acknowledged greatest of all time remains the gold standard for ambassadors of the league, and not just because he has five Maurice Podoloff Trophies on his mantel. And with James threatening to rewrite history books in the face of yet another stellar season, the latest straw polls for the hardware carry not inconsiderable meaning.
True, anything can happen in between now and the time of reckoning for the award. When voters composed of media practitioners in North America put pen to paper and formalize their first-to-fifth rankings, intervening circumstances will have pruned the number. Attrition will have happened naturally; for instance, the forced sidelining of Davis and Durant due to injuries has presumably disqualified them from serious consideration for the achievement. Ditto the controversial manner in which James Harden extricated himself from the Rockets, his seamless assimilation by the Nets notwithstanding.
In any case, it’s fair to argue that the eventual winner will deserve to be called MVP. There will inevitably be hand-wringing and second-guessing, but, no matter how justified the push against recency bias may be, there can be no taking back the hardware. Which is why the stars keep showing up and showing their best, and why they want the stars to be aligned for them.
Anthony L. Cuaycong has been writing Courtside since BusinessWorld introduced a Sports section in 1994. He is a consultant on strategic planning, operations and Human Resources management, corporate communications, and business development.