Winning the NBA Finals MVP is one of the hardest things to accomplish. It means you overcame all of your opponents to make it to basketball’s ultimate stage but also that you outplayed not only your rivals, but also your peers during that series.
Just those who deliver when it matters the most are able to earn this honor, which is even more difficult when they share the court with another superstar.
That’s why today we’re going to talk a bit about all those players who have won this accolade, ranking them on a pyramid from those that only won one Finals MVP all the way to those who won the most.
1 x Finals MVP
Jerry West, Wilt Chamberlain, Rick Barry, John Havlicek, Jo Jo White, Bill Walton, Wes Unseld, Dennis Johnson, Cedric Maxwell, Moses Malone, James Worthy, Joe Dumars, Isiah Thomas, Chauncey Billups, Dwyane Wade, Tony Parker, Paul Pierce, Dirk Nowitzki, Andre Iguodala
Well, the bottom tier of our pyramid features almost entirely Hall of Famers or players that are a lock to be inducted, except perhaps Cedric Maxwell and Andre Iguodala. That tells you everything you need to know about how important winning a Finals MVP is for your resume.
Most importantly, we find guys that weren’t exactly superstars at the time of winning the award, such as Maxwell, Jo Jo White, and Chauncey Billups. They made a name for themselves on basketball’s ultimate stage and then everything came along.
But also we find the loners like Wilt Chamberlain, Dirk Nowitzki, West Unseld, Jerry West, and Moses Malone; all legends of the game that were only able to win one NBA Championship throughout their careers. On an interesting note, West is the only player in NBA history to win the Finals MVP despite being on the losing side, which tells you how dominant he was.
Looking at this list we can’t figure out just how difficult it is to dominate for years, that’s why those who won more than just 1 Finals MVP are undisputed basketball elite.
2 x Finals MVP
Willis Reed, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Larry Bird, Hakeem Olajuwon, Kobe Bryant, Kevin Durant, Kawhi Leonard
The 2-time Finals MVP winner features nothing but legends. We have the guy who put the New York Knicks on the map on Willis Reed, the guy who dominated when Michael Jordan retired on Hakeem Olajuwon and a guy that outplayed LeBron James in back-to-back Finals in Kevin Durant.
If that wasn’t enough, we have Kobe Bryant, who put an end to the narrative that Shaq had carried him to his 3 rings by taking matters into his own hands during the late 2000s, or Kawhi Leonard, who put an end to two dynasties and won Championships for two franchises, including one that hadn’t even made the Finals.
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar is one of the winningest players in NBA history and their all-time leading scorers, one of the reasons why the Lakers were able to win so many Championships. Then again, we see Larry Bird take the scene as one of the best 3 small forwards ever. Notice a pattern here? We’re talking about dynasty-makers here.
3 x Finals MVP
Magic Johnson, Shaquille O’Neal, Tim Duncan, LeBron James
As we climb closer to the summit we find four players that could undeniably be considered the best ever in their respective positions.
Magic Johnson is the greatest point guard in the history of the game and that’s not even close. He was a point-forward that set the standard for playmakers and passers that came after him and a guy that could play and guard all five spots on the court.
Shaquille O’Neal aka the most dominant player ever. Nobody else ate during Shaq’s prime. There simply was no containing him in the paint, he was too strong, fast, quick, athletic, and smart to be stopped. He could’ve been the GOAT if he had stayed in the Lakers a little bit longer.
Tim Duncan is an example of work ethic, fundamentals, and the best two-way power forward in the history of the game. He let his game do all the talking for him and he paved the way for the San Antonio Spurs to be the most respected organization in professional basketball over the past two decades.
And last but not least, we find LeBron James, who won the Finals MVP on every single Championship run he’s been on. He has a losing record in the Finals and that’ll always dent his legacy, but you just can’t put the blame on him given the way he’s performed and the numbers he’s put.
6 x Finals MVP
And, obviously, Michael Jordan has to sit on a tier of his own. There has never been a player that has dominated the rest of the league for that long and the way he did.
Jordan was never outperformed in the Finals. Hell, he didn’t even play a Game 7 during his six Finals runs. He got the job done, no excuses, no pity. Winning was the only acceptable outcome for Michael Jordan and that’s why he’s still considered the greatest player up to this date.
Michael holds the highest point-per-game average in NBA Finals history with 40.1 points per game, which tells you just enough about how much he took things into his own hands when silverware was on the line.