The NBA MVP Award In a Box

My favorite contemporary writer, the incomparable Bill James, has used the “In a Box” concept in several of his books. Basically what James does is choose a topic (e.g., a baseball manager) and then makes an idiosyncratic list of the topic’s defining features. I think the format works well for a blog post, so today I would like to put the NBA MVP award winners “In a Box”.


Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, 7’2″ (1970-71, 1971-72, 1973-74, 1975-76, 1976-77, 1979-80)

In all, 14 of the 58 MVPs (24.14 percent) have been 7’0″ or taller.

Allen Iverson, 6’0″ (2000-01)

Just four players 6’3″ or shorter have won the MVP award: Iverson, Bob Cousy, Steve Nash (who won two MVP awards), and Derrick Rose.

Median Height

Shaquille O’Neal, 325 lbs. (1999-00)

Allen Iverson, 165 lbs. (2000-01)

Of the 58 MVPs, 48 (82.76 percent) have had a listed weight of 200 pounds or more.

Median Weight
220 lbs.

Most Points
Michael Jordan, 2,868 (1987-88)

Jordan’s point total in 1987-88 ranks sixth on the NBA’s all-time list. Oddly enough, Wilt Chamberlain has four of the top five single season NBA point totals, but he won his four MVP awards in other seasons.

Fewest Points
Bill Walton, 1,097 (1977-78)

Bill Russell has five of the 10 lowest point totals for an MVP.

Most Rebounds
Wilt Chamberlain, 1,957 (1966-67)

Chamberlain has the top four spots on this list, with the next five spots occupied by Bill Russell.

Fewest Rebounds
Steve Nash, 249 (2004-05)

Only two players have won an MVP award with fewer than 300 rebounds: Nash and Allen Iverson (273 rebounds in 2000-01).

Most Assists
Magic Johnson, 988 (1988-89)

Johnson has the three highest assist totals for an MVP, followed by Oscar Robertson’s MVP season (1963-64) and Steve Nash’s two MVP seasons (2004-05 and 2005-06).

Fewest Assists
Moses Malone, 101 (1982-83)

Malone is the flip side of Magic Johnson: He has the three lowest assist totals for an MVP.

Most Win Shares
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, 25.4 (1971-72)

Abdul-Jabbar’s average of .340 win shares per 48 minutes that season is also the highest by an MVP.

Fewest Win Shares
Bill Walton, 8.4 (1977-78)

Walton only played 58 games that season, by far the fewest for an MVP in a full-length season. Walton’s average of .209 win shares per 48 minutes was second in the NBA to Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (.257).

Best Team Winning Percentage
Michael Jordan, .878 (1995-96 Chicago Bulls)

The Bulls set an NBA record by going 72-10 in 1995-96.

Worst Team Winning Percentage
Bob Pettit, .458 (1955-56 St. Louis Hawks)

The Hawks actually did make the playoffs that season, losing to the Fort Wayne Pistons in the Western Division Finals.

Team Made Playoffs
57 out of 58 (98.28 percent)

The only MVP to play for a team that did not make the playoffs was Kareem Abdul-Jabbar in 1975-76. Abdul-Jabbar and Bob Pettit in 1955-56 (see above) are the only MVPs to play for a team that did not finish with a winning record.

Team Won Championship
22 out of 58 (37.93 percent)

Unanimous Selections
Zero, zilch, nada.

Shaquille O’Neal (1999-00) and LeBron James (2012-13) came the closest, each receiving all but one first place vote. Thanks Fred Hickman and Gary Washburn!

Largest Award Share
Shaquille O’Neal, .9975 (1999-00) and LeBron James, .9975 (2012-13)

An award share is equal to points won divided by the maximum number of points. For example, in 2012-13 James had 1207 points in the voting. If he had received every first place vote his point total would have been 1210, so his award share is 1207 divided by 1210.

Smallest Award Share
Bob Cousy, .3647 (1956-57)

In 1955-56, 1956-57, 1964-65, and 1976-77 through 1979-80, voters could only list one player on their ballot. The smallest award share in a year in which voters could list multiple players on their ballot was .4067 by Wilt Chamberlain in 1965-66.

Most Award Shares, Career
Michael Jordan, 8.14

Jordan is followed by Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (6.20), Larry Bird (5.69), LeBron James (5.39), and Magic Johnson (5.13).

Most Wins
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, 6 (1970-71, 1971-72, 1973-74, 1975-76, 1976-77, 1979-80)

Bill Russell and Michael Jordan are next with five wins apiece.

Most Consecutive Wins
Bill Russell (1960-61 through 1962-63), Wilt Chamberlain (1965-66 through 1967-68), and Larry Bird (1983-84 through 1985-86), 3

Russell and LeBron James both won four MVP awards in a five-year span.

Most Years Between Wins
Wilt Chamberlain, 6 (1959-60 to 1965-66)

Most First Place Votes, Career
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, 762

Abdul-Jabbar is followed by Michael Jordan (530.5), LeBron James (451), Wilt Chamberlain (348), and Bill Russell (289).

Most Years, First Place Vote
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, 13 (1969-70 through 1980-81, 1983-84)

Think about this: In 13 different seasons, at least one voter thought Abdul-Jabbar was the most valuable player in the league. I find this more remarkable than his six wins.

All-MVP Team

PG Oscar Robertson 1963-64
SG Michael Jordan 1987-88
SF LeBron James 2008-09
PF Kevin Garnett 2003-04
C Wilt Chamberlain 1966-67

A few notes:

  • Robertson gets the nod at the point over any one of Magic Johnson’s three MVP seasons.
  • Jordan has to be the shooting guard, and I think 1987-88 was his best MVP season.
  • James and Garnett are my forwards, with apologies to both Larry Bird and Bob McAdoo.
  • Center is the toughest choice. I went with Chamberlain’s 1966-67 season because he led the league in rebounds, win shares, and win shares per 48 minutes; was third in points and assists; shot an amazing 68.3 percent from the floor (a new NBA record, shattering his record of 54.0 percent set the previous season); and led the Sixers to a 68-13 record and an NBA championship.

Wes Unseld, 22 (1968-69) and Derrick Rose, 22 (2010-11)

Unseld and Wilt Chamberlain are the only rookies to win the MVP award.

Karl Malone, 35 (1998-99)

Malone is also the oldest first-time winner, winning the first of his two MVP awards in his age 33 season.

Median Age

Worst Selection
Dave Cowens (1972-73)

Cowens did not lead the NBA in a single category in 1972-73. Meanwhile, Tiny Archibald, led the league in minutes played, field goals, field goal attempts, free throws, free throw attempts, assists, and points.

Archibald’s KC-Omaha Kings did not make the playoffs that year, but Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s Milwaukee Bucks did, finishing first in the Midwest Division with a record of 60-22. Although Archibald had the flashy stats, I probably would have voted for Kareem.

So why did Cowens win? The Celtics exploded for 68 wins in 1972-73, and I think the voters felt they had to give the award to somebody from Boston. If forced to pick a player from that Celtics team, I probably would have gone with John Havlicek. In my opinion the All-NBA voters got it right, as they put Archibald, Abdul-Jabbar, and Havlicek on the first team and Cowens on the second team.

Worst Player to Receive a First Place Vote
Mike Bantom, 1974-75

Bantom averaged 27.3 minutes, 12.5 points, 6.7 rebounds, and 1.9 assists per game. He shot 46.1 percent from the floor and 71.4 percent from the line. For that effort he was rewarded with a single first place MVP vote.* Huh?

* It should be noted that this was back when the players voted.

Best Player Who Never Won
Jerry West

West — a 14-time All Star and 12-time All-NBA selection — was runner-up four different times (1965-66 and 1969-70 to 1971-72) but never won the award.

Most Winners, Franchise
Boston Celtics, 10 (1956-57, 1957-58, 1960-61 through 1962-63, 1964-65, 1972-73, 1983-84 through 1985-86)

The Los Angeles Lakers are the runner-up in this category with eight winners.

5 thoughts on “The NBA MVP Award In a Box

  1. “It should be noted that this was back when the players voted.”

    And I suspect, what prompted that practice to end. :-) Do we know who cast the vote for Bantom?

    1. Actually, Bantom received that vote in 1975 and the players voted through the 1979-80 season, so I doubt that had anything to do with the writers taking over. I don’t think it was ever revealed who cast that vote for Bantom.

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