When I placed my NBA MVP vote a few weeks ago, I knew I would be in the minority. I knew LeBron James was the prohibitive favorite to win his fourth award because he unquestionably is the best player in the game.
I voted for Carmelo Anthony based on his importance to the New York Knicks, who, if you haven’t been paying attention the past decade, have failed to be relevant.
When the voting was announced Sunday afternoon, I was flabbergasted to learn I was the lone voter among 121 to not give LeBron a first-place vote, truly believing Anthony, Kevin Durant, Chris Paul, and perhaps even Kobe Bryant would snag a first-place vote or two.
Firstly, when I submitted my vote in mid-April, I had no idea I would be the only voter to leave LeBron out of first. This isn’t Mrs. Wilson’s class, I don’t walk around asking fellow sportswriters their answers to the US History quiz. I had no idea whom the writers were voting for, so this was no LeBron conspiracy.
Secondly, this isn’t the Best Player in the Game award, it’s the Most Valuable Player award, and I think what Anthony accomplished this season was worthy of my vote. He led the Knicks to their first division title in 19 years.
That’s a long time ago.
Anthony led the league in scoring average and basically carried an old Knicks team to the No. 2 seed in the Eastern Conference. Amar’e Stoudemire missed most of the season with knee issues, Raymond Felton missed six weeks, and Tyson Chandler dealt with nagging injuries, leaving Anthony, J.R. Smith, and a bunch of lottery picks from the mid-1990s to win 54 games and beat the Miami Heat three times.
LeBron can win the MVP award every year. He is that good. And it’s to the point where I put him on a Michael Jordan scale. Jordan won five MVP awards but could have earned 10. In the 1992-93 season, Jordan averaged 32.6 points, 6.7 rebounds, 5.5 assists, and 2.8 steals and shot 49.5 percent from the field.
And the MVP award went to Charles Barkley.
So my vote had more to do with Anthony and less to do with the dominance of LeBron. If you were to take Anthony off the Knicks, they are a lottery team. James plays with two other All-Stars, the league’s all-time 3-point leader, a defensive stalwart, and a fearless point guard. The Heat are loaded.
If LeBron was taken away from the Heat, they still would be a fifth or sixth seed. He is the best player of this generation, a multifaceted superstar with the physical prowess of Adonis, but I chose to reward a player who has lifted his team to new heights.
The Knicks were slapped around last season by the Heat in the first round, swept by the Celtics the year before, and the constant has been Anthony. Stoudemire, an All-Star-caliber player when healthy, has been dealing with knee problems the past few years. Chandler is a defensive center, and Jason Kidd, Marcus Camby, and Rasheed Wallace are beyond aging. That leaves the scoring load to Anthony and the mercurial Smith.
The perception that I knew the other 120 voters cast their first-place votes for LeBron and that I went against the grain as some kind of statement is inaccurate. I have covered the league for years, watched Jordan lose the 1996-97 MVP to Karl Malone, and understand that for one season, certain players just elevate their games. I thought Anthony was the most valuable player to his team this season, not the best player in the league.
And the fact that Anthony is struggling in the playoffs, three weeks after I cast my vote, is a serious case of Wednesday morning quarterbacking. Anthony scored 50 points at Miami April 2 and averaged 36.9 points in April when the Knicks were trying to lock down the Atlantic Division and the No. 2 seed.
LeBron had a marvelous season and should be the first player to win seven MVP awards, but this season I felt Anthony meant more to his team. It obviously was not a popular vote but it was my right to vote that way.
I definitely understand those who believe LeBron should have won unanimously but it’s no easy task making the Knicks relevant again and I think Anthony deserved my kudos for this season.Gary Washburn can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can follow him on Twitter at @gwashNBAGlobe.