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1996 MVP Race: Michael Jordan Won The Award With 1,114 MVP Points, 540 Points More Than David Robinson

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1996 MVP Race: Michael Jordan Won The Award With 1,114 MVP Points, 540 Points More Than David Robinson

The 1995-96 season was the 50th season of the NBA’s existence. Things were changing all across the board. The league introduced 2 new Canadian franchises, the Toronto Raptors, and Vancouver Grizzlies. Coach Pat Riley left the New York Knicks and went to the Miami Heat, further intensifying a heated rivalry. Many NBA legends made their debuts, such as Kevin Garnett, Damon Stoudamire, Michael Finley, Jerry Stackhouse, and Rasheed Wallace. Last but not least, Michael Jordan returned for his first full season since his 2-year hiatus from the league to play baseball.

Michael Jordan returned with a vengeance, taking home the MVP, All-Star Game MVP, and Finals MVP all in the same season. He also led his Chicago Bulls to a 72-10 record, which was an NBA record until the Warriors went 73-9 in 2016. The Bulls only lost 3 games en route to the franchise’s 4th championship in 6 years, and it was all thanks to No.23 deciding to run it back once more. For the rest of the league, Jordan’s return sparked fear in their hearts, and rightfully so, as Jordan cruised to his 4th MVP trophy.

Just how dominant was Jordan’s run to the MVP award? We break it all down below.


T9. Shaquille O’Neal - 63 MVP Points

Shaquille O’Neal Orlando Magic

Stats: 26.6 PPG, 11.0 RPG, 2.9 APG, 0.6 SPG, 2.1 BPG

In his final season with the Orlando Magic, Shaquille O’ Neal battled injuries that cost him 28 regular season games. Despite the injury, Shaq still had a dominant season as he led the Magic to their best season in franchise history and a second straight trip to the Eastern Conference Finals. Even before his years in Los Angeles as the best player in the world, Shaq was one of the best centers in the league, behind only David Robinson and Hakeem Olajuwon.

The 1996 playoffs were an easy road for Orlando in the first two rounds. The Magic swept the Detroit Pistons in the first round behind 21.0 PPG and 6.7 RPG from Shaq. In the second round, they met the Atlanta Hawks, who they took care of in 5 games behind 27.8 PPG and 11.4 RPG from O’Neal, including a 47-point and 15-rebound performance in Game 1. In the Eastern Conference Finals, the Magic, unfortunately, ran into the buzzsaw that was the 96’ Bulls falling in 4 games despite 27.0 PPG and 10.8 RPG from Shaq. Shaq would leave in free agency that summer to the Los Angeles Lakers.


T9. Grant Hill - 63 MVP Points

Grant Hill

Stats: 20.2 PPG, 9.8 RPG, 6.9 APG, 1.3 SPG, 0.6 BPG

In the 1995-96 season, Grant Hill was just entering his peak as an offensive player. The league had been desperately searching for its next star since the untimely retirement of Michael Jordan in 1994. Enter Grant Hill. He was an offensive specialist, usually operating as a point-forward for the Pistons and delivering nightly. Alongside an aging Joe Dumars and a young Allan Houston, Hill led the Pistons to 56 wins in 1995-96.

Hill showcased his all-around abilities during the year, leading the NBA in triple-doubles with 10. He also was the All-Star Game’s leading vote-getter despite the return of Michael Jordan. He was the league’s leading assist man that didn't play the guard position. He would do that again 3 more times in his career. Hill led the Pistons to the first round of the playoffs, where they were promptly swept by the Orlando Magic. In the series, Hill shot 56.4% from the field and averaged 19.0 PPG and 7.3 RPG.


8. Shawn Kemp - 73 MVP Points

Shawn Kemp Seattle SuperSonics

Stats: 19.6 PPG, 11.4 RPG, 2.2 APG, 1.2 SPG, 1.6 BPG

If there was any player who embodied what 90s basketball was all about, it was Shawn Kemp. He was fast, big, and explosive as anyone in the NBA at the time. Kemp could do it all on offense, even though he has a reputation as an explosive dunker. He slashed and forced his way into the lane like a schoolyard bully where he dominated. He could also step out and hit a mid-range jumper, one of the more unrecognized parts of his game, along with his defensive skills. Kemp was an abundant rebounder who also used to send shots into the laps of fans on defense regularly.

Kemp’s career peaked in the 1995-96 season when he and Gary Payton led the Seattle SuperSonics to an NBA Finals match-up with the powerful Chicago Bulls. Kemp and the Sonics were the one team during that postseason to give Michael Jordan and the Bulls fits. The Sonics lost in 6 games, but Kemp had himself a monster series posting averages of 23.3 PPG, 10.0 RPG, 1.3 SPG, and 2.0 BPG. Kemp’s performance nearly earned him his first ring and a Finals MVP to go with it. He finished a close second to Michael Jordan in the Finals MVP voting.


7. Karl Malone - 85 MVP Points

Karl Malone

Stats: 25.7 PPG, 9.8 RPG, 4.2 APG, 1.7 SPG, 0.7 BPG

The 1995-96 season for Karl Malone was a historic one of sorts. He led the Utah Jazz in scoring with his 25.7 PPG which was also good for 2nd in the league behind Michael Jordan. He moved into 9th place on the NBA’s all-time scoring list in the midst of it all while being named to the All-NBA First Team. Malone led the Jazz in scoring, and rebounds, and tied with John Stockton for the team lead in steals. He would save his best work for the 96’ playoffs.

The Jazz had been on an unfortunate streak of being sent home early in the playoffs for quite some time by the time the 96’ playoffs rolled around. In the first round, they were pushed to 5 games by the Portland Trail Blazers but Malone was their leader who dropped 25 points and 10 rebounds in a Game 5 blowout to advance to the Conference Semifinals. They would meet the Spurs in the 2nd round where Malone would average 25.0 PPG and 9.8 RPG in a 6-game series victory. Behind 27.0 PPG and 11.6 RPG from Malone in the Western Conference Finals, the Jazz would push the SuperSonics to 7 games but fall in Game 7 by a score of 90-86. Malone was just getting started as he led the Jazz to back-to-back Finals appearances in 1997 and 1998.


6. Gary Payton - 98 MVP Points

Gary Payton Often Crossed The Boundaries Of Trash Talking: "If I Knew Something About A Person’s Mother, I Knew Something About His Sister. If He Had Just Got A Drunk Driving Charge, I Would Go At The Situation."

Stats: 19.3 PPG, 4.2 RPG, 7.5 APG, 2.9 SPG, 0.2 BPG

Gary Payton is still well known and revered for his stifling defense throughout his career. The 1995-96 season was the pinnacle of his defensive efforts as he led the league in steals with 2.9 SPG. He was rewarded for his defensive skills with the 1995-96 Defensive Player Of The Year award, the first point guard to win the award and the only point guard to do it until Marcus Smart in 2022. As great of a defender as Payton was, his offense goes heavily underrated.

Gary Payton was a consistent 19.0 PPG and 7.0 APG player, at minimum. The 1995-96 season was right on par with those numbers. Payton commanded an offense like very few could, which made for nightly highlights due to his camaraderie with teammate Shawn Kemp. Payton could score just as well as he could facilitate, as he was able to blow by defenders or pull up for a smooth-looking jumper. Payton led the SuperSonics to the NBA Finals in 1996 and gave Michael Jordan his absolute best in the series. Jordan looked baffled until Payton got injured and you can’t give a player like MJ any bit of wiggle room. The 1995-96 season was a historic one for Payton and should forever be remembered for his two-way capabilities.


5. Scottie Pippen - 226 MVP Points

Scottie Pippen

Stats: 19.4 PPG, 6.4 RPG, 5.9 APG, 1.7 SPG, 0.7 BPG

Fans of the 1990s and especially Bulls fans know just how great of a player Scottie Pippen was. Pippen could do everything that was asked of him on a nightly basis. If you needed him to score, he could score. If you needed rebounds or assists, he could hang with the best of them. On defense, he was one of the very best, picking up a team’s No.1 or No.2 option any given night. He was the quintessential swingman and the perfect complement to Michael Jordan for the Bulls.

Pippen, along with the addition of Dennis Rodman, helped the Bulls to the best regular-season record in NBA history at 72-10. It can be said that without Pippen, perhaps the Bulls don’t take home the championship in 1996. In the 1996 playoffs, Pippen’s scoring numbers took a dip but everything else was elevated. He rebounded, assisted, and played defense as well as anyone in basketball. As one of the most complete players in basketball, it is no surprise that Pippen finished Top 5 in MVP voting in 1995-96.


4. Hakeem Olajuwon - 238 MVP Points

Hakeem Olajuwon

Stats: 26.9 PPG, 10.9 RPG, 3.6 APG, 1.6 SPG, 2.9 BPG

By the time the 1995-96 season rolled around, Hakeem Olajuwon had already established himself as the best center in basketball. He was already the best interior defender in the NBA while also being a tremendous offensive threat. Coming off of back-to-back NBA championship runs, Hakeem dominated the league on both ends of the floor once again in 1995-96.

For the 12th straight season, Olajuwon averaged over 2.0 BPG for the year. He led the Rockets to a 48-win season, ultimately ending with disappointment and a sweep in the 2nd round of the playoffs at the hands of the Seattle SuperSonics. The 1995-96 season was also the 12th straight season that Hakeem averaged at least 20.0 PPG, 10.0 RPG, and 2.0 BPG. He earned his 11th All-Star appearance and 10th selection to an All-NBA Team. As the greatest two-way big in basketball, a Top 4 finish in MVP voting was just another season for Hakeem Olajuwon.


3. Anfernee Hardaway - 360 MVP Points

Anfernee 'Penny' Hardaway Orlando Magic

Stats: 21.7 PPG, 4.3 RPG, 7.1 APG, 2.0 SPG, 0.5 BPG

Immediately when we hear Anfernee “Penny” Hardaway’s name, our hearts sink, thinking of what could have been if his career didn't see all those injuries. In 1995-96, however, Penny had perhaps the best season of his career. Hardaway’s teammate Shaquille O’Neal was injured to begin the season, and the weight fell all on Penny. He responded, leading the Magic to a 17-5 start. For the second straight season, Penny was named an All-Star starter as well as a member of the All-NBA First Team.

It didn’t stop there for him, either. Penny also stepped up his defensive efforts. Hardaway tallied 166 steals during the 1995-96 season, good for 5th in the entire NBA. He also was the only player in the league to average at least 20.0 PPG and 5.0 APG while shooting at least 50.0% from the field (Hardaway shot 51.3% overall). For the second straight year, He and O’Neal had the Magic in the Eastern Conference Finals but were swept by the eventual NBA champion Chicago Bulls. Penny’s incredible leadership amongst adversity resulted in the highest MVP finish of his career.


2. David Robinson - 574 MVP Points

David Robinson

Stats: 25.0 PPG, 12.2 RPG, 3.0 APG, 1.4 SPG, 3.3 BPG

By all accounts, David Robinson could have easily been named the 1995-96 MVP if it hadn’t been for Michael Jordan’s return. Robinson was named to both the All-NBA First Team and All-Defensive First Team as well. He led the Spurs to 59 wins and their second straight division title. It was the 7th consecutive year that the Spurs qualified for the playoffs with Robinson in San Antonio.

Robinson was considered to be in the upper echelon of NBA centers right beside Hakeem Olajuwon and Shaquille O’Neal. The only difference was that he could never get over the hump and give his team a chance in the NBA Finals. Unfortunately, 1995-96 would be no different. In the first round of the 1996 playoffs, Robinson led the Spurs to a 3-1 series victory over the Phoenix Suns. He averaged 30.0 PPG and 11.8 RPG in the series. The Spurs' run would end the very next round against the Utah Jazz as Robinson’s numbers dropped significantly. Despite the lack of playoff success, Robinson stuffed the stat sheet on both ends of the floor, earning him a runner-up finish for MVP.


1. Michael Jordan - 1,114 MVP Points

Michael Jordan 1996

Stats: 30.4 PPG, 6.6 RPG, 4.3 APG, 2.2 SPG, 0.5 BPG

Michael Jordan picked up right where he left off in 1994 when he walked away from the game for nearly two years. In his first full season back, Jordan claimed the MVP, All-Star MVP, Finals MVP, his 8th scoring title, and his 4th championship. The Bulls started a ridiculous 41-3 amid Jordan’s return, showing immediately the impact he had on the basketball court. As if we didn’t already know. The Bulls would finish with a 72-10 record, setting the new NBA mark for wins in a season.

The playoffs were just as dominant for Jordan and the Bulls. He averaged 30.7 PPG, 4.9 RPG, and 4.1 APG across the entire playoff run with the Bulls losing just 3 games on their way to the championship. In the NBA Finals, Jordan was matched up against Gary Payton and the Seattle SuperSonics. He struggled a bit early in the series but closed out strong to finish with 27.3 PPG, 5.3 RPG, 4.2 APG, and 1.7 SPG to earn his 4th ring and 4th Finals MVP Award. What a welcome back to the league. This was just the beginning of yet another three-peat for the Jordan-led Bulls, which cemented his legacy as the greatest player of all time. 

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