At a Golden State Warriors game against the Portland Trail Blazers last November, the sold-out crowd chanted M-V-P, M-V-P, as Stephen Curry stepped to the free throw line. It's been going on for years, and it is not exactly an uncommon occurrence to hear a partisan crowd chant for the team's superstar.
And Curry is a true superstar. As I sat there in the Oracle Arena that night, I even chimed in on the chanting. I knew he wasn't going to win the league's best player award (he hadn't even made the 2013 All-Star team), but still, Curry had captured my heart. And I wanted to chant M-V-P until I could believe it. And I almost did.
On the BART ride home (after a crushing defeat) with a train car full of Warriors fans, I ran through scenarios on how Curry could win the NBA's Most Valuable Player award this season. Essentially, I was trying to rule out a few of the NBA's biggest names.
Then Oklahoma City Thunder star Kevin Durant started scoring like a madman, chalking up 12 30-point games in a row. In the process he matched some of the greatest players of all time. And in one game became the front-runner for this year's MVP award. Against the Miami Heat, Durant scored 33 points, with many coming while the best player in the world, LeBron James, was guarding him. James was just outmatched guarding Durant. But still, King James scored 34 points in that loss to the Thunder.
The thing about MVP is that you don't have to be the best player in the world to win it. Otherwise, LeBron James would win it every year. He is the best player in the league. And if your life rested on one player currently in the NBA making a shot or winning a game, James is the guy.
So much so that fans, pundits and maybe even players just take him for granted.
But some years, there are players who rise up, capture our attention and lead their teams to victories, like Derrick Rose for the Chicago Bulls in the 2010-11 season or Durant this year.
So under that thinking, Curry has a chance. His team is clearly better with him playing. He makes other guys better. And he puts up top-notch statistics. But the Warriors won't lead the league in wins like Rose's Bulls did.
Could a little respect from another superstar inspire an MVP swing voter to Curry? The aforementioned Kevin Durant recently tweeted: Steph any day, best shooter to ever play. (Your opinion on that often depends on how old you are.) As nice as that was for Durant to say, he didn't say best player or even best point guard. He just said best shooter. Meaningful? Yes. Impactful? Apart from one day's worth of material for screaming pundits on television and radio shows, not really.
So is Stephen Curry an MVP candidate? Yes, a candidate, but he's not going to win the award this time around. It is hard to write that, especially because there are a couple dozen games left to play. And I want to point out all the reasons he should, but I am not sure I have enough.
Through 54 games, he leads the league in assists per game, three pointers made and is seventh in points. And he did make this year's All-Star team. But critics point out that he leads the league in turnovers. Of course, Kevin Durant is second in turnovers and LeBron James is fifth. And if you're going to be the man, then you have to have the ball. And if you have the ball often enough, you're going to turn it over.
But MVP isn't about stats alone. The award is not voted on in a vacuum. It also matters how the team plays. Rarely do athletes in any sport on losing teams win MVP awards, even if they might deserve it. The problem for Curry is that the Warriors aren't quite good enough right now to have him in the conversation. Some days the team is exciting
and fun to watch, like the January beat-down of the Los Angeles Clippers. Other days, it is mind-numbingly awful basketball, like the this month's home loss to the Charlotte Bobcats.
The team is 35-22 as of Feb. 26, and is currently the sixth seed in the strong Western Conference. (The top eight teams from each conference make the playoffs.) By contrast, Durant's team is in first place in the West and James' squad is second in the East.
This whole post is, in a way, unfair to Stephen Curry. He's not LeBron James or Kevin Durant. He never claimed to be. Curry is a pretty humble guy and personable, too. His postgame interviews are filled with wry little smiles, as if one of his teammates is behind the reporter making a funny face. More importantly, Curry is about team (as are James and Durant, by the way). As mentioned, he leads the league in assists, giving the ball to a teammate to score, not that Curry doesn't take his fair share, too, of course. He broke the record last year for most 3-pointers made in NBA history.
So, as the Warriors continue through the season, there is a blossoming of talent. Some players are coming off the bench and contributing much more that earlier in the season. That was desperately needed. And when the team is in rhythm, it can roll over even the best teams in the NBA.
I'm partial here because I love watching the Warriors, especially at Oracle Arena (or the Roaracle Arena). Fans there hang on every shot and pass. The fans deserve a winner. And that's my big hope: Curry leads a team full of talent to success. And the MVP award be damned.
You see, the Most Valuable Player award is given to a player. A championship is won by a team. There is a big difference. My guess is that if Curry had to choose, he would go with an NBA championship every time. After all, when was the last time you saw one of the game's greats popping champagne for an MVP trophy?