MICHAEL WILBON: Kobe, LeBron and D-Wade Make MVP Voting Hard Work
The best players in the NBA, including some of the best ever, watch every night with the same astonishment as regular folk. They get home and quickly surf channels for the highlights, or consult their PDAs for the up-to-the-second details. Did LeBron James have another triple-double? Did Kobe get 50? Did Dwyane Wade win the game by blocking a shot or hitting a 25-foot runner at the buzzer?
The most fascinating race for MVP in years has come down to the final dozen games and it's impossible to know which of the three will win. But watching it unfold has been thrilling to the point of exhaustion. Shaquille O'Neal, who has a definitive opinion on just about everything, paused for an extra long time Monday night when I asked him who he would vote for, if the season ended that very moment, for MVP.
"It's too hard," Shaq, the 2000 MVP, said. "When I was young and coming up in this league, the MVP was the guy who almost always was head and shoulders above the rest of the guys in the league that year. This year? . . . I just don't know yet. They're too even. LeBron is the perfect player; he does everything right in a basketball sense. If a teammate is open, LeBron gets him the ball, period. Kobe is like his nickname: Black Mamba. He can just flick on that button, pull 60 points out of his bag, strike you in one second. And D-Wade is a mixture of both right now, and he doesn't have the team that Kobe and LeBron do. . . . It's too hard, bro. . . . We gotta see what happens in these final games."
Steve Nash, the MVP in 2005 and '06, said: "Whatever happens, it can't be controversial. Today? I don't know. Something could happen in the last 10 games. . . . They're all doing something special. The Lakers have so much depth . . . LeBron has elevated his team. And Dwyane has made it all the way back. You could make the case that Dwyane and LeBron are separating themselves a little bit."
Others at US Airways Center were a little closer to certainty, while reserving the right to change their minds between now and the end of the regular season, April 15.
Grant Hill: "LeBron." Hill, while he never has been MVP, is uniquely qualified because he's spent his career guarding first Kobe, then Wade and LeBron as one of the league's most versatile perimeter defenders. "Having said that, these last 10 games, whoever gets hot or stays hot could win . . . the last thing the voter thinks about will probably decide the outcome. Kobe, we know, can go on a tear at any time. LeBron has these games where he scores 40, which alone is impressive enough. And then he has a triple-double. And he's had a string of them. It's really unbelievable what he's doing, this stretch he's in right now.
"Who's tougher for me to cover? They're all tough," Hill said. "But Wade is always attacking . . . and the way the rules are today, it's tougher because you can't ride a guy the way you could 10, 12 years ago. Wade is always looking to drive. . . . For a guy who was hurt, he's come back awfully fast and completely. . . . I was watching him the other night thinking, 'I don't remember him being that quick and that fast before he got hurt.' I really don't."
Hill, a U.S. Olympian in 1996, thinks something else has fueled the three-way race. "The Olympics. If you remember, Charles [Barkley] had his best season [MVP in 1993] the year coming off the Olympics. . . . He was in the best shape of his career because nothing compares to playing, practicing especially, at that level of intensity the entire summer. I practiced every day against Scottie Pippen. With these three guys, they're coming off winning gold, they were pushing each other every day, they were picking things up from each other every day. . . . They came in sharp, ready to go."
Carmelo Anthony: "D-Wade." Like an increasing number of players, Anthony is astonished that Wade, diminished by injuries the last two seasons, is carrying a team with one greatly reduced former all-star (Jermaine O'Neal) and a bunch of kids. "The story of D-Wade does it for me," Anthony said. "The season that he's having, to come back to this level. . . . He would get my vote. Look, LeBron is out of this world, all these triple-doubles. Kobe's ability to kill you . . . we all know that. But D-Wade -- and I didn't think this was possible -- has come all the way back and he totally turned around his team at the same time."
Kenyon Martin: "LeBron. What Cleveland has done at home [32-1] is crazy. And LeBron does that thing we all talk about: He makes everybody better with those triple-doubles. He's even brought Wally [Szczerbiak] back to life," Martin said, smiling. "I think LeBron is at that point where he understands exactly what it takes now. . . . Let me say this, though, about D-Wade: I watched every Olympic basketball game over the summer . . . woke up at crazy hours to watch 'em live. Wade is back. I mean all the way back."