Michael Jordan is widely regarded as the greatest player of all time and the 1991 MVP Award is a fine example of why. Recognized as one of the most competitive MVP races of all time, Michael Jordan beat out a host of other Hall of Famers who had superstar seasons to win the award. The 1991 season was a special year for Michael Jordan, who won his second MVP award and also his first NBA championship. He was simply on an entirely different level that year, as the most dominant player in the game by a wide margin.
But credit goes to the other players who finished just short of MJ's greatness. We saw the great Larry Bird lead the Boston Celtics to the second seed in the East, while Dominique Wilkins wowed the world with his athletic play. Surprisingly, neither of these stars would even crack the top-5 of the race. We also saw Clyde Drexler have the best record in the league and also finish outside the top-5 in the race. That means there were 5 superstars players that had the best chance to win the MVP, and each of them were elite beyond imagination.
Any one of those players deserved the award, and the entire race was determined by slight margins. With the great Magic Johnson finishing second place, here is the breakdown of an iconic MVP race that ended with Michael Jordan ahead of the pack.
Clyde Drexler - 75 MVP Points
Stats: 21.5 PPG, 6.7 RPG, 6.0 APG, 1.8 SPG, 0.7 BPG
Clyde Drexler was the second-best shooting guard in the NBA behind Michael Jordan, and he fell just outside the top-5 ranking of all players during the 1991 MVP race. Drexler played 82 total games, shot 48.2% from the field, and nailed 79.4% from the stripe. Drexler's consistency as a scorer and all-around player was important for the Trail Blazers finishing with the best record in the league. Drexler and the Trail Blazers were certainly consistent in the regular season and made it as far as the Western Conference Finals in a losing effort to the Los Angeles Lakers led by Magic Johnson.
The fact that the best player on the best team in the league is a testament to how great the 1991 season was for NBA fans following the MVP race. It is very likely that the presence of Michael Jordan in the NBA hurt Clyde Drexler’s case for the coveted individual award because it was hard not to compare the two players. Nonetheless, Drexler still beat out the likes of Kevin Johnson, Dominique Wilkins, and Larry Bird with the best chance to crack the top-5 in the MVP race.
5. Karl Malone - 142 MVP Points
Stats: 29.0 PPG, 11.8 RPG, 3.3 APG, 1.1 SPG, 1.0 BPG
With his point guard and superstar teammate finishing 12th in MVP voting, Karl Malone finished 5th averaging 29.0 PPG and 11.8 RPG on an efficient 52.7% shooting from the field. Malone and his point guard John Stockton led the Jazz to the 5th seed in the Western Conference behind 4 other stacked teams including the Trail Blazers, Lakers, Suns, and Spurs.
The Mailman was still spectacular all season and his numbers were MVP worthy if not for 4 other Hall of Famers ahead of him. The power forward made his 4th straight All-Star appearance and played all 82 games at a whopping 40.3 MPG. Malone also finished second in scoring behind Michael Jordan, and 4th in rebounds behind David Robinson, Dennis Rodman, and Charles Oakley. Not to mention, Malone was the best power forward in the league behind Charles Barkley.
4. Charles Barkley - 222 MVP Points
Stats: 27.6 PPG, 10.1 RPG, 4.2 APG, 1.6 SPG, 0.5 BPG
Charles Barkley was an absolute beast inside the paint, dominating the boards and the scoring charts with ease. Barkley was the undisputed superstar for the Philadelphia 76ers and he was a consistent force on the inside. The ultimate competitor, Charles played 67 total games, at 37.3 minutes per game during the 1991 season. During the regular season, Chuck would not be denied from averaging his second-highest career PPG of his career (28.3 PPG in the 1988 season was first).
Philadelphia finished 5th in the Eastern Conference, behind top teams including the Chicago Bulls, Boston Celtics, Detroit Pistons, and Milwaukee Bucks. Barkley was also his usual efficient self, scoring at a high level with a 57.0% field goal percentage. The dominant power forward also finished 4th in scoring behind Jordan, Malone, and Bernard King. The reason Chuck did not get enough MVP votes to crack the top-3 is because of his team record which was not as great as it probably should be.
3. David Robinson - 476 MVP Points
Stats: 25.6 PPG, 13.0 RPG, 2.5 APG, 1.5 SPG, 3.9 BPG
Finishing 3rd in the Western Conference, the San Antonio Spurs were a title-contending team thanks to the two-way brilliance of David Robinson. The Admiral made his name and his fame during the 1990s, blossoming as a Rookie of the Year during the 1990 season. The following season, Robinson was third in the MVP race and started staking his claim as one of the best players in the world.
The big man dropped 25.6 PPG and 13.0 RPG in the 1991 season, adding in 3.9 BPG and 1.5 SPG. One of the contenders for Defensive Player of the Year along with the MVP award, Robinson ranked 9th in scoring, 1st in rebounds, and 1st in blocks per game. The superstar would win Defensive Player of the Year the following year, but his chance for MVP was the closest he got to winning a major award. Luckily for The Admiral, Robinson would only wait a few more years to win his first MVP award.
2. Magic Johnson - 497 MVP Points
Stats: 19.4 PPG, 7.0 RPG, 12.5 APG, 1.3 SPG, 0.2 BPG
Unsurprisingly, the greatest point guard ever appears in the top-2 race in the MVP race. Magic Johnson had a sensational season in 1991, averaging a double-double and also leading the Los Angeles Lakers to the second seed in the Western Conference. With Magic at the helm, the Lakers were unstoppable on offense and made it to the NBA Finals after disposing of the Trail Blazers in the Western Conference Finals. But during the season, Magic ranked 2nd in APG and was still the best leader on the court, sharing that honor with John Stockton who led the league in assists.
Magic Johnson would have won the MVP in any other season, but it was Michael Jordan’s time to put a stamp on the league and solidify himself as the most unstoppable player in the league. Even with Jordan getting enough help to win his first championship, Magic was still arguably a top-two player in the game due to his passing and floor leadership. Of course, the 1991 season was also the last season that Magic played in before missing the next 4 seasons with HIV. The 1991 season was also the last time fans got to see Magic Johnson at his absolute prime, which is why he only finished behind the greatest player of all time in the MVP race.
1. Michael Jordan - 891 MVP Points
Stats: 31.5 PPG, 6.0 RPG, 5.5 APG, 2.7 SPG, 1.0 BPG
There is no doubt that the 1991 season was Michael Jordan’s time. He was both the best scorer in the league and also the best defensive player in the league, posting ridiculous statistics across the board. He was on a mission to completely dominate the rest of the NBA and he was far and away the best player on the planet. The shooting guard averaged 31.5 PPG over the entire season, along with 6.0 RPG and 5.5 APG to go along with 2.7 SPG.
Even beyond numbers, Jordan was on a different level as he played all 82 games at an average of 37.0 minutes per game. MJ led the Bulls to the best record in the Eastern Conference in what was probably the best regular season in Michael Jordan's Hall of Fame career. Even if postseason success does not count towards the MVP award, the Chicago Bulls guard also deserved the award for leading his team to the NBA finals in a winning effort against Magic and the Los Angeles Lakers.