Recently-retired National Basketball Association and Los Angeles Lakers icon Kobe Bryant said that point guards Russell Westbrook of the Oklahoma City Thunder and James Harden of the Houston Rockets should share the league?s Most Valuable Player award this season.
With the declaration, Bryant was probably just being polite and his belief may be politically correct considering the tight MVP derby that is expected to come down to a toss-up between Westbrook and Harden, both of whom have had mind-boggling individual accomplishments to back up their respective cases ? even if statistics have never been a basis for MVP selection since the league institutionalized the award in 1955-56.
Until 1979-80, the players controlled the MVP balloting. But since 1980-81, the sportswriters and broadcasters that covered the league games have taken over the chores.
Though, it has likely come down to Westbrook and Harden, a one-time Manila visitor, it does not mean there are no other worthy MVP contenders in this history-filled season. There?s Cleveland?s LeBron James, a four-time awardee in the past; San Antonio?s Kawhi Leonard, and even Golden State?s Stephen Curry, the back-to-back reigning titlist whose Warriors have secured the best regular-season record in the NBA for the third consecutive year.
To have a tie for the MVP award when this has never ever happened before is easier said than done.
The NBA MVP voting system is the culprit. A nationwide media panel of 125 sportswriters and broadcasters ? three from each of the 30 member clubs that cover the league games and the remainder by national media ? does the balloting. They are asked to name their top five choices according to their preferences with points being assigned (10 points for a first-place vote, 7 for second, 5 for third, 3 for fourth and 1 for fifth) on the basis of their rankings.
It?s the overall points accumulated ? and not the number of first-place votes secured ? that will determine the MVP winner.
As such, the voting system would likely preclude the possibility of a deadlock in the race for the Maurice Podoloff (MVP) hardware. Only an identical points total by multiple players will produce a tie.
There have been cases in the past where one player had the most first-place votes and yet lost the MVP race. The most recent occurrence came in 1990 when burly forward Charles Barkley of the Philadelphia 76ers had 11 more first-place votes than the eventual winner Magic Johnson of the LA Lakers.
During the 1961-62 wars, Oscar Robertson of the Cincinnati Royals (the predecessors of the Sacramento Kings) chalked up 41 triple-double games and registered a T-D average, but the ?Big O? placed only third in the MVP race.
That same campaign, the Philadelphia Warriors' Wilt Chamberlain had his 100-point game for an all-time NBA record and averaged 50.4 points and 25.7 rebounds - both NBA season highs - in 80 games. The Big Dipper finished only second in the MVP poll by the players.
The winner: Boston's Bill Russell (18.9 ppg, 23.6 rpg).
Note that at the time, and even as it is now, regular-season stats were only used as a guide, nothing more.
Russell, of course, went on to power the title-streaking Celtics to the NBA crown in 1961-62.
The 6-3 Westbrook posted his 42nd triple-double game of the season today ? 50 points, 16 rebounds and 10 assists in 37 minutes during the Thunder?s 106-105 win over the Nuggets in Denver on his first career game-winning buzzer beater, a three-pointer from 36 feet ? to shatter the old NBA single-season record for T-D games he previously shared with Robertson.
With two games remaining (at Minnesota, Apr. 12, Manila time; and against visiting Denver, Apr. 13, MT), Westbrook is averaging a nine-year career-high 31.9 points, 10.7 rebounds and 10.4 assists in 80 appearances for the playoffs-bound Oklahoma City, which is seeded sixth in the Western Conference with a 46-34 record.
Westbrook is a cinch to capture his second NBA scoring title. The first came in 2014-15 when he normed 28.1 ppg in 67 assignments for a Thunder unit that missed the playoffs.
In contrast, the 6-5 Harden himself has produced an NBA second-leading 21 triple-doubles, including a 35-point, 11-rebound, 15-assist performance in the playoffs-headed Rockets? 135-128 road victory over the Sacramento Kings today.
In averaging an eight-year career highs of 29.4 points (in a tight battle with Boston?s Isiah Thomas for second place in the NBA) and 11.3 assists (best in the majors) and grabbing 8.1 rebounds in 79 outings (he missed a game due to flu), ?The Beard? has powered Houston to the third-best record in the West at 54-26 (with two games remaining) after the Rockets barely qualified for the postseason a year ago as the
Mr Libog treat my self and my wife to lunch over the weekend.
As is the usual practice, talk at our table centered mainly around basketball, specifically recruitment.
"Malapit na Fil Oil ah," he stated, referring to the Fil Oil-Flying V Premiere Cup, the summer basketball tournament organized by the local petroleum company that bears the same name.
I nodded, knowing this tournament would begin after the Holy Week, so it was only about a week or two away.
"Sino mga bago natin?" he inquired, referring to who the new players might be on our varsity roster.
I shrugged. Apart from transfer student Gab Reyes, and two players who failed to make the last season's regular roster for different reasons, I actually had no clue who any of our new talent (if any) there might be.
I told him about Reyes, and the other two guys: Tyler Tio and Gian Mamuyac. He was of course familiar with all three, since we had followed their developments even as far back as their high school days. I said they were doing well in the offseason tournaments like the Fr Martin Cup and the Milcu Got Skills Challenge Cup.
He didn't sound too impressed. "That's it?"
"So what we have is an athletic forward who Lord only knows has been doing what the last couple of years we haven't heard a thing from him, a guy who should have been lined up last season were it not for paperwork that had nothing to do with his game, and another guy who we both agreed should have been lined up ahead of at least three other guys who didn't actually do shit for us last season. Would that be accurate?"
I nodded again. Although I did add that at least we're getting three guys who aren't total greenhorns and who could come in and play right away within the system of the team and the coach, which is always valuable.
"Valuable, yes, but doesn't guarantee us a title does it?" he asked, rhetorically as usual.
My wife was busy putting fried rice, squid heads, beef, broccoli, tofu, and clams on our plates while we were engrossed in our little discussion. It pays to marry the right woman, I tell you. She will make sure you can keep enjoying a good meal without having to skip a beat in your in-depth basketball conversation.
I said that with Reyes, Tio, Mamuyac we would have a better perimeter now, that can provide firepower, defense, experience, and much-needed speed.
"I hardly think Tyler and Gab will provide speed, only Gian is a natural runner in that bunch. You are correct though that Tyler can provide additional firepower, Gab too, because Gab I think is a better shooter than Thirdy Ravena. But then again Gab might be what, in his fourth year in college by now, dapat lang naman sigurong gumagawa na siya, athletic naman siya, may pukol, sa edad niya dapat lang naman kaya na niya gumawa. So once again we have to thank Lasalle for another guy they couldn't use, because now he gets to play in a blue uniform," he expounded.
"Alam mo totoong tanong diyan: ano ba ginagawa nung mga tao na dapat naghahanap ng talent para sa team? Bakit pa sila pinapasweldo? Troy Mallilin hindi nakuha. Justin Baltazar hindi nakuha. Ricci Rivero hindi nakuha. Aljun Melecio hindi nakuha. Lahat ng mga players na gusto ko, 'yun ang mga hindi nila nakuha. Wala na ngang clearance na kailangan, wala na ngang residency, hindi pa din natin sila nakuha."
"So sino-sino ba mga nakuha natin? Mga good students? Kung good students kailangan natin huwag na natin padala sa US ang team tuwing summer, magtayo na lang sila ng separate scholarship fund specifically for good students who make the basketball team. OK lang naman kung ganun ang gusto nila eh, pero pupusta ko lahat ng yaman ko, never mananalo ng UAAP championship ang team na good students ang lahat ng players. No way," he declared.
So was he saying we would have a losing season?
"Far from it, I think we will return to the Finals at the very least, where once again our problem will be how to match up against (Benoit) Mbala. Sino pantatapat natin sa kanya, sina (Chibuezee) Ikeh at George (Go) na naman? Hindi porke nakapalag tayo kahit papano last year ganun-ganun lang magagawa natin ulit 'yon this year."
"We can be thankful na wala na si Jeron (Teng), and he really is a big loss for them, kasi hindi ganun kadali replace ang scoring at veteran leadership niya. Kaya lang papano kung mag-step up naman sina Baltazar, Ricci (Rivero), Melecio, makabalik din ng maganda 'yung Gboy Gob, or maka-contribute right away 'yung Troy (Mallilin), talented players lahat ang mga 'yon ha."
"Pero sabihin na lang natin na lahat nung mga locals nila hindi gumawa as expected, andiyan pa din si Mbala eh, at 'yon walang katapat sa buong liga. So papano na tayo niyan?"