LeBron James is not happy that Giannis Antetokounmpo beat him out for the 2020 NBA MVP award. Honestly, to say the Lakers star is not happy may be putting it too mildly.
“It pissed me off,” James said after the Lakers beat the Denver Nuggets in Game 1 of the Western Conference Finals. “It pissed me off because out of 101 votes, I got 16 first-place votes. That’s what pissed me off more than anything. Not saying the winner wasn’t deserving of the MVP, but that pissed me off.”
James went on to talk for about five minutes about how he feels what voters value in the MVP award changes from season to season, and about the voting process in general. He lamented losing out on the Defensive Player of the Year award to Marc Gasol in 2013, despite Gasol somehow ending up on the All-Defensive Second Team, saying that season was when he started to feel that the voting process was “weird.” He brought up other examples, like Hornets guard Devonte Graham receving so little consideration for Most Improved Player this year despite going from averaging 4.7 points to 18.2. He has a theory on why this stuff keeps happening.
“I don’t know how much we are really watching the game of basketball, or we’re just in the narration mode. The narrative,” James said, with “we” referring very much to “the media.”
He co-star, Anthony Davis, agreed, and feels that NBA players should get more of a say in the awards process.
“He’s the best player in the league,” Davis said. “If you look at this year what he’s been able to accomplish, regular season and playoffs, for me it was clear cut that he was the MVP. I’m not sure how they can do the voting. You can get the players more involved for sure. I mean, we’re actually the ones who are out there playing against these guys.
“If you look around the league, a lot of players would say ‘hey, LeBron should be MVP.’ These guys up against him night in, night out, and see what he brings to the table and what his value is to our team. I think the players for sure should be involved in all the votes.”
Earlier on Friday, Lakers head coach Frank Vogel said he was “a little bit” surprised to see James not get more votes for the award.
“You guys all know how I feel about it. To me, he’s the MVP of the league this year. No disrespect to Giannis. Giannis had a great season, he’s a great player, but what LeBron does for our team, to me, is unparalleled. To carry the threat of going for 40 at any point, but leading the league in assists and quarterbacking our defense and driving our team to as many wins as we’ve had, and our playoff success, to me he’s our MVP,” Vogel said.
“But I understand how the voting goes, and quite frankly our whole group — and I’m sure LeBron would echo this — is focused on something bigger than any individual accolades. We have a mindset to compete for a championship, we’re in a position where we’re down to four teams (left), and that’s really where our whole focus is.”
That may be true, but this is definitely something that’s bothering James to some degree, enough so that it was the only thing he really addressed postgame, and was irritated enough to echo his own point in a tweet sent almost right after he left his postgame media availability.
16 out of 101 ! Ok cool! I got y’all.— LeBron James (@KingJames) September 19, 2020
Now look, over the course of human history, there has never been a single enjoyable conversation online about the MVP debate, so I am on some level sorry for even acknowledging all this. It is arguably the most subjective award the NBA hands out, because everyone seemingly has a different definition of what “valuable” actually means. That’s probably the real reason for the massive swings in how it’s evaluated by the media members who vote on it each year, and why the discourse around it is always so insufferable.
Friday night’s discussion was no less so. Check out the replies and quote tweets of my tweet thread of James’ remarks. Or, honestly, don’t. They sucked. Half of them were people calling James a poor loser, and the other half were people saying that he had a point and that media shouldn’t get a vote.
The thing is, though, both sides are half right. Should the players determine the MVP, as Davis said? I personally don’t think so, because we’ve all seen with the All-Star voting that they aren’t necessarily the best arbiters of this, either. Still, it’s clear the voting process isn’t perfect. I personally would argue for teams’ advance scouts to get to vote on these awards since they watch the most film of all these guys, but on some level all that is neither here nor there. The media having this vote probably isn’t changing anytime soon, as flawed as the result can be at times.
Here are the 16 people who gave LeBron James a first-place vote for the MVP award. pic.twitter.com/Bi8VGpKGGy— Playoff Faigen (@hmfaigen) September 19, 2020
And with the current reality in place, James was never going to win MVP this year. Giannis Antetokounmpo had the better regular season. That doesn’t mean James wasn’t deserving of being in the conversation, and there is even an argument to be made that he’s the better player. But Giannis had the more effective statistical season for the team with the better record, and because votes were based on the regular season, he was never not going to win, whether you thought he was deserving or not.
If anything, it was James’ candidacy that was more boosted by narratives — mainly how he led the Lakers through a tough season on and off the court, with multiple voters citing him steering the team through the aftermath of Kobe Bryant’s death as a factor in his candidacy — not Antetokounmpo’s. Plus, given how many voters had shared their ballots publicly over the last several weeks, Antetokounmpo winning has been a foregone conclusion for a while, so maybe James shouldn’t have been surprised by this.
But all that aside, the dumbest thing about this whole conversation is that people online constantly complain that players today aren’t competitive enough, but when one of the most competitive people on the planet essentially comes up with a way to feel slighted publicly, he gets blasted for it.
Regardless of if you think James actually should have won the MVP or not, isn’t this the whole thing everyone was lionizing Michael Jordan for during the Last Dance? All the “and I took that personally” stuff? You can say that you don’t think James was the MVP, but should we really be surprised that he thinks he was? You don’t get to his level without that kind of self-belief and competitive spirit. On some level, he should be pissed about this. Of course he wants to be declared the best player in the world. It shouldn’t be a crime for him to admit as much.
At the end of the day, though, while James was clearly annoyed at his second-place finish, things are still pretty good. He may have complained a bit, but he’s not going to spend the rest of the postseason debating his candidacy with the people who didn’t vote for him.
“I’m fine. Don’t get it twisted. I’m going back to my room perfectly fine. We’re up 1-0 in the Western Conference Finals,” James said, and it was hard not to notice that being in the conference finals is not something Antetokounmpo can claim. “I was pissed off earlier when I saw it, but I’m absolutely great now. Going back to my room to drink some wine and sleep very well tonight. So let’s not get it twisted. I’m great.”
And before he fully walked away from the mic, it picked him up mumbling to Davis “another headline for me tomorrow” and a grumble F-bomb, so clearly even he’s aware of how much the MVP conversation online always sucks.
Don’t expect him to take part in it any more, though. He’s got some wine to finish, and a win to celebrate. In the place of the regular season version, his chase for another ring and NBA Finals MVP award will have to suffice.
For more Lakers talk, subscribe to the Silver Screen and Roll podcast feed on iTunes, Spotify, Stitcher or Google Podcasts. You can follow Harrison on Twitter at @hmfaigen.