“Pissed me off,” James said when asked to describe his reaction to the MVP voting results, which were announced earlier Friday. “That’s my true answer. It pissed me off because, out of 101 votes, I got 16 first-place votes. That’s what pissed me off more than anything. You know, not saying that [Antetokounmpo] wasn’t deserving of the MVP. But that pissed me off. I finished second a lot in my career, either [for] a championship and now four times as an MVP. … Some things [are] just out of my hands, and some things you can’t control.”
Antetokounmpo, who was named MVP for the second straight year, won with 85 first-place votes and 962 total voting points. James finished second with 16 first-place votes and 753 points, while none of the other candidates received a first-place vote.
During his 17-year career, James has been named MVP four times: 2009, 2010, 2012 and 2013. He previously finished second in 2006, 2014 and 2018, and his teams have a 3-6 record in the NBA Finals. A fifth MVP would carry significant historical weight; it would tie him with Bill Russell and Michael Jordan for the second most all-time, trailing only Kareem Abdul-Jabbar with six.
For much of the regular season, Antetokounmpo was regarded as the consensus MVP favorite. His Bucks posted the league’s top record and point differential, and he led the league in player efficiency rating, defensive rating and usage rate.
Yet James was gaining ground on Antetokounmpo before the NBA’s shutdown because of the novel coronavirus pandemic in March, and the Lakers now look like title favorites while the Bucks were knocked out in the second round by the Miami Heat.
The NBA’s rules this year instructed voters, who are all media members, to consider only games played before the shutdown, a decision that was aimed at providing a level playing field for players on the eight teams that weren’t invited to the Disney World bubble. James’s strong recent play — and the Lakers’ dominant 9-2 run through the postseason — was obviously outside the voting panel’s scope.
While James acknowledged that Antetokounmpo “had a hell of a season,” he questioned the media’s approach to voting and the award’s murky standards.
“I don’t know how much we are really watching the game of basketball or are we just in the narration mode, the narrative,” said James, who posted 15 points, six rebounds and 12 assists in Game 1. “I’m not going to sit up here and talk about what the criteria should be or what it is. It’s changed over the years since I’ve gotten into the league. … It’s changed a lot. Sometimes it’s the best player on the best team. Sometimes it’s the guy with the best season statistically.”
Perhaps some of James’s frustration can be traced to Antetokounmpo joining Jordan and Hakeem Olajuwon as the only players to win MVP and defensive player of the year awards in the same season. James, who has made six all-defensive teams but never won defensive player of the year honors, noted that he began having doubts about the NBA’s voting system in 2013. That year, he finished second to Marc Gasol in defensive player of the year voting, even though James was selected all-defensive first team and Gasol was all-defensive second team that year.
“The voting scale is a little weird to me sometimes,” James said. “I had a chance to be defensive player of the year and also MVP in the same season. Gasol was defensive player of the year, but he made second team all-defense. Okay, so that doesn’t make sense. It’s like being MVP of the league but you make second team all-NBA. That’s when I really started to look at things differently. It’s like being rookie of the year but you make second team all-rookie.”
James added that Charlotte Hornets guard Devonte’ Graham, who finished fifth in most improved player voting despite a breakout season, deserved more credit from voters.
“Brandon Ingram was amazing, and I thought he should have won [most improved player],” James said. “But did you see the vote that Devonte’ Graham got? He averaged [4.7] points last year compared to [18.2 this year]. If that’s not improving, what is?”
Anthony Davis, who scored a game-high 37 points in Game 1, has regularly campaigned on his teammate’s behalf for MVP this season. The all-star forward suggested Friday that one possible fix to the NBA’s voting system could be including players rather than relying strictly on media members.
“I think we can get the players more involved for sure,” Davis said. “We’re actually the ones who are out there playing against these guys, and if you look around the league, a lot of the players say LeBron should be MVP. These guys go up against him night in and night out and see what he brings to the table and what his value is to our team.”
The NBA has added player voting to the all-star selection process in recent years, a move that has produced its own share of questionable results. The National Basketball Players Association also began handing out its own end-of-season awards in 2015, but James has yet to be named MVP by his peers.
James told reporters he was “absolutely fine” and “great” with the MVP results, in part because of the Lakers’ dominant showing against the Nuggets. He pledged to go “back to my room, drink some wine and sleep very well tonight.”
Within minutes, though, he fired off a tweet aimed directly at awards voters: “16 out of 101! Ok cool! I got y’all.”
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