clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

LeBron James' Non-Unanimous Win Shows The MVP Voting Process Needs To Be Changed

Yes, it's true, LeBron James won the Most Valuable Player award in a landslide. Of the 123 ballots submitted to decide the MVP (122 writers and one fan vote), 116 voted for LeBron. So to complain about James not winning unanimously is probably grasping at straws.

But it's also true that the case for LeBron James was as much of a slam dunk (pun intended) as any in recent years. So what were those other seven people thinking? Can they legitimately construct an argument against LeBron being this year's MVP, or are they driving an agenda that tarnishes the voting process?

Matt Moore of NBC's Pro Basketball Talk is fairly convinced it's the latter. 

This isn't to say that the system itself is broken. After all, 116 writers did get it right.  And again, it's not to say that there won't be variety in voting which is a good thing. A plurality of opinions is a good thing in any field, especially in that of the MVP voting. And both Kevin Durant and Dwight Howard (and sure, why not, third place Kobe Bryant) deserve consideration. They had tremendous seasons and are absolutely worthy of a 2nd or 3rd place vote. But in considering all the facts, given James' statistical domination by any measure, given the Cavs performance, given his impact at both ends of the floor and the sheer complete nature of his game and the level to which he excels in all those areas, James was the only choice. 

Dissenting opinions only carry weight when they're built from a conviction of truth, not simply to force a sense of controversy or carry an agenda. It's entirely possible that the seven voters who elected to have James 2nd or 3rd merely carried strong, well reasoned convictions to that end. It's also likely that they did not.     

As we mentioned last night, three of those votes against LeBron James came from Orlando media members voting for Dwight Howard. Those constituted Howard's only three first-place MVP votes. Worse, two of those three votes for Howard are coming from media members employed by the Orlando Magic -- television play-by-play man David Steele and writer John Denton. The third vote for Howard came from Tim Potvak of Fanhouse, who wrote this ridiculous column saying he wouldn't vote for LeBron because he didn't play in a meaningless late-season game. Potvak emailed Moore an explanation for his Howard vote that centered around Howard's defensive impact, but it's flimsy. Clearly, Potvak's silly column affected his vote.

So are those three votes against LeBron legitimate? For some context, let's take a look at Ira Winderman's piece explaining how the NBA gives out MVP votes. Winderman, a writer for the Miami Sun-Sentinel, implies that the voting process is fundamentally flawed.

When the postseason ballots are distributed to media-relations staffs, the priority is distributing them to those who see the team on a fulltime basis, both home and away.

And that's where it gets murky and why more than a few self-serving votes apparently are being cast.

Among the electorate are NBA employees, those directly drawing checks from the teams themselves.

Television broadcasters. Television analysts. Radio play-by-play men. Radio color commentators.

Take the Miami Heat, for example. Postseason voting privileges are granted to five team employees who work for the organization's broadcast outlets.

While all have ample credentials and integrity, the fact remains that employees of teams are voting in award races that involve players on those teams.    

So why give team employees MVP votes? Winderman gives one explanation, then debunks it.

The league's rationalization is it is the only way to create to substantial electorate.

But these are employees of the very same teams that are creating award campaigns.    

Here's another way to debunk the NBA's explanation: if maintaining a substantial electorate is an issue, why not give more Internet writers MVP votes? Perhaps this seems self-serving, but there are tons of great writers out there, both at SB Nation and elsewhere, who follow the NBA extremely closely and would be well qualified to vote on the MVP. Yahoo! Sports' Kelly Dwyer, for example, has religiously watched nearly every NBA regular-season game in the last few years, and it took until this year to give him an MVP vote. Bill Simmons, who wrote an 800-page book on the NBA and is arguably as prominent as any other NBA writer, doesn't have an MVP vote. Why? 

Bottom line: if creating a substantial electorate is the NBA's issue, then all they need to do is tap into the vast amount of great NBA writing on the web.

Perhaps the NBA is worried about issues of personal bias if they were to hand out an MVP vote to Internet writers and relevant team bloggers, but this concern is unfounded. Take the two other major MVP "candidates" other than LeBron this year: Howard and Kevin Durant. In SB Nation's season-ending NBA awards, Ben Q. Rock from SB Nation's Magic blog Orlando Pinstriped Post voted for LeBron over Howard, despite being a Magic blogger. Meanwhile, Moore talked to Royce Young from the prominent Thunder blog Daily Thunder, and Young said that, despite his love for Durant, it's clear that "LeBron was the MVP, no doubt." In other words, the writers for the biggest Magic and Thunder blogs on the Internet voted for LeBron over their own players. Maybe this is too small a sample, but it doesn't appear that bias among team bloggers would be much of an issue. It certainly wouldn't be as bad as giving MVP votes to team employees.

To be clear: I do believe the title of Moore's piece ("LeBron being denied unanimous win means it's time for a chance") is a bit misleading. There's nothing right about arguing for change simply because one guy didn't win unanimously, and frankly, I think Moore would agree.

The bigger issue is that votes are given out to people who are team employees, many of whom are prone to pushing their own agenda instead of voting fairly. The NBA's stated reason for giving those people votes is that it's necessary to maintain a big enough electorate, but there are tons of more qualified voters writing all over the Internet that don't have votes and aren't team employees. I see no reason why some of those people shouldn't be included in the voting process.