Curbing Volatile Tendencies

There is an interesting dichotomy characterizing this year’s MVP race. There’s an assumed winner in Derrick Rose, but there are several worthy candidates. Nobody’s really a clear-cut winner. The reality of it, though, is that all the popular choices are clear-cut options.

Mike Wilbon’s clear-cut winner is Rose. John Hollinger’s clear-cut winner is Dwight Howard. Ethan Sherwood Strauss’ clear-cut winner is LeBron James. The thing is, none of them is wrong. When there are no fewer than three arguable candidates, that might be a problem. This year’s MVP race is kind of like a multiple-choice question that has no right answer — you answer it because that’s the nature of the thing, but later on you’re told that there wasn’t a correct answer, so you should have abstained.

If the MVP voting process for the NBA is at that point, a change is necessary. Right now, the MVP vote has no definition. There are no official qualities inherent to the award. Without some directional guidance, it’s useless to elect a winner. The voting is based entirely on speculation, personal opinion, and newsworthiness. That seems a bit off.

As Matt Moore was quick to point out, that’s probably the way the league wants it. The openness of the award facilitates discourse, which generates popularity for the relevant players, their teams, and the league as a whole. The more candidates there are, the more fan bases start to rally and promote the NBA, however indirectly.

That’s all fine and dandy to a degree, but what happens if things get worse? The MVP is a media-driven award, and the landscape and scope of the media is ever evolving. As the generation gap continues to widen between the traditional print writers and the up-and-coming bloggers, it’s within the realm of possibility that candidacies could get ridiculous. The example I used last night was this: what happens if we start voting Ryan Gomes MVP for best mohawk? Or Kyle Lowry for best internet meme? It seems absurd now, but down the line it could be feasible.

The NBA is supposed to be fun for the viewers. Entertainment creates good business, which circles back to fun. It’s a mutually beneficial cycle. What’s ignored, though, is that the greatness of the NBA isn’t just based on fun. There’s a necessary factor of legitimacy. The Harlem Globetrotters are fun, but they aren’t very successful. Slam Ball was fun, but it wasn’t successful. When Golden State Warriors fans herald Monta Ellis at their MVP at Oracle Arena, that’s a rather tame violation of the legitimacy of the award and the NBA, but it’s still outrageous.

Better yet, take a look at the All-Star Game. Every year, one or more undeserving players get voted in to the starting lineup because of personal allegiances or Lifetime Achievement Awards (Yao Ming and Allen Iverson have fit those categories, respectively, in recent years). Without a doubt, the game has taken a hit in relevance of late, and the joke of the voting process is no small factor. The MVP’s on the same track.

I don’t mean to suggest that there should be a list of robotic criteria for a player to be voted MVP in a process that takes all the life out of things. But marginal reform would be the best thing at this point. The Rookie of the Year Award is a good model. It has a controversial condition that players are eligible for the award even if they are playing in a year other than their first. The pertinent example? Blake Griffin, who garnered every first-place ROY vote from the contingent of ESPN writers. If that weren’t the case, every one of those writers would have to reconsider his or her vote.

Getting a push in the right direction from the NBA wouldn’t be a detriment to fun, and it would help to avoid the pitfalls of illegitimacy — a balance of which even this year’s MVP race could be jealous.

Seth Carstens