Brandon Dill/Associated Press
On Christmas morning, the Lakers were five games above .500 and LeBron James was right in the thick of the early MVP conversation. Of course, we didn’t know then what we know now—that James would go down with a groin injury that day against the Warriors and ultimately miss the playoffs for the first time in 14 years.
Things went so sideways for the Lakers that it’s hard to remember a time, not so long ago, when James was poised to carry yet another team with no other superstars to the postseason and—who knows?—maybe even a ninth straight NBA Finals.
Had James not gotten hurt and missed 18 games—and had the Lakers not imploded as a result, leading to James being shut down for what’s left of the regular season—we’d be having an entirely different conversation. Instead of debating whether Giannis Antetokounmpo or James Harden is this season’s MVP, we’d be asking ourselves how many more James is capable of winning.
And to take it a step further, how many he should have won over the years.
“As long as he put up the numbers [this season], you could’ve seen the anti-LeBron bias go the other way,” one executive within the league told Bleacher Report. “If he didn’t get hurt and got this Lakers team to the playoffs, he might have been the sentimental favorite. There might have been a desire on the part of the media to do right by him and make up for past wrongs.”
MVP snubs are nothing new for generational players. Michael Jordan won five and easily could have won five more. With four league MVPs and three Finals MVPs to his credit, James isn’t hurting for notches on his belt as he ascends the sport’s Mount Rushmore. But it’s so odd for him not to be in the MVP conversation, it makes you think back on a few that got away.
“If the ‘V’ stands for valuable, you can make the case that LeBron is the most valuable player in the league every year, including this year,” another team executive said. “He’s so good that we take him for granted.”
Looking back at the MVP votes he didn’t win, James often has been judged against a different standard than most other players. It’s a standard of his own making, but it’s one that’s hard to top from year to year when you’re putting up numbers few in the game have ever produced.
In 2005-06, James logged a career-high 42.5 minutes per game and was third in the league in scoring behind Kobe Bryant and Allen Iverson with 31.4 points per game (also a career high) to go with 7.0 rebounds and 6.6 assists. He also led a team featuring the likes of Larry Hughes, Drew Gooden, Zydrunas Ilgauskas and Eric Snow (who averaged 4.8 points per game as the starting point guard) to a 50-win season.
Come awards season, though, Steve Nash was named MVP for the second year in a row after he paced the Suns to 54 victories and led the league in assists. With the juiced-up, free-flowing Suns offense—commonplace across the league now, but revolutionary at the time—Nash also led the league in wow factor. Rather than an anti-LeBron bias, the biggest factor working against LeBron that season was that Nash, the Suns and their electrifying s