Only three players have won more MVP Awards than LeBron James. Both Michael Jordan and Bill Russell won five awards, while Kareem Abdul-Jabbar leads the league with six recognitions. James is tied with Wilt Chamberlain for winning four times, but in reality, could have won this award nine times total in his career. There were five seasons where he finished right in the mix but was bypassed by another player.
You can call it being young, emotional, or biased, there were some underlying reasons why James was not picked the MVP in some seasons. The voting, conducted by a panel of media members, had James finish runner-up three times, as well as third two times. These five times could have easily seen James winning the MVP.
2006 MVP Race
Ranking: 1. Steve Nash, 2. LeBron James, 3. Dirk Nowitzki, 4. Kobe Bryant, 5. Chauncey Billups
Steve Nash - 924 MVP Points
Stats: 18.8 PPG, 4.2 RPG, 10.5 APG, 0.8 SPG, 0.2 BPG
LeBron James - 688 MVP Points
Stats: 31.4 PPG, 7.0 RPG, 6.6 APG, 1.6 SPG, 0.8 BPG
It took LeBron James six years in the league before he won his first MVP. In reality, his first MVP should have come in his third season in the league at 21 years old. This would have made him the youngest MVP in the history of the NBA. However, the league went with Steve Nash, who helped guide the league’s best offense with the Suns.
James scored more points, rebounds, steals, and blocks than Nash. He also produced a productive assists total for a forward as well. What separated Nash from James was that Nash finished the season in the 50-40-90 Club, which was impressive enough to win the hearts of the voters. However, the Suns only won four more games than the Cavaliers, who had an eight-game jump from the previous season.
2011 MVP Race
Ranking: 1. Derrick Rose, 2. Dwight Howard, 3. LeBron James, 4. Kobe Bryant, 5. Kevin Durant
Derrick Rose - 1,182 MVP Points
Stats: 25.0 PPG, 4.1 RPG, 7.7 APG, 1.0 SPG, 0.6 BPG
LeBron James - 522 MVP Points
Stats: 26.7 PPG, 7.5 RPG, 7.0 APG, 1.6 SPG, 0.6 BPG
The 2011 MVP race 11 years later seems to be an emotional vote. James led the league in win shares, including finishing with more than two complete win shares more than Rose. Somehow, Rose received 113 MVP votes, while James finished with just four. When James left the Cavaliers in the 2010 offseason, it led to an emotional ripple effect throughout the world. Looking back, you have to notice there was some sort of bias in the voting.
For starters, Dwight Howard finished with more MVP votes than James despite the Magic losing six fewer games with the Heat. The Heat finished with 58 wins in the East with enough data supporting James was truly the best player in the league from a numbers standpoint. With that said, Rose did leave the Bulls to 62 wins and the best record in the East, so he does have a valid argument.
2015 MVP Race
Ranking: 1. Steph Curry, 2. James Harden, 3. LeBron James, 4. Russell Westbrook, 5. Anthony Davis
Steph Curry - 1,198 MVP Points
Stats: 23.8 PPG, 4.3 RPG, 7.7 APG, 2.0 SPG, 0.2 BPG
LeBron James - 552 MVP Points
Stats: 25.3 PPG, 6.0 RPG, 7.4 APG, 1.6 SPG
Out of the five years, this is the weakest year based on the resume of the Warriors as a team. In his first year as head coach, Steve Kerr transformed Steph Curry and saw him lead the Warriors to 67 wins to lead the NBA. He also was 1.3% away on his field-goal percentage from finishing in the 50-40-90 Club, while shooting an impressive 44.3% from three-point range.
With that said, in his first season back with the Cavaliers, James led the Cavaliers to the second-best record in the East and 53 wins. When James was off the Cavaliers, the team was a cellar team. In his first year back, the team was an Eastern Conference contender. That is no coincidence.
2018 MVP Race
Ranking: 1. James Harden, 2. LeBron James, 3. Anthony Davis, 4. Damian Lillard, 5. Russell Westbrook
James Harden - 965 MVP Points
Stats: 30.4 PPG, 5.4 RPG, 8.8 APG, 1.8 SPG, 0.7 BPG
LeBron James - 738 MVP Points
Stats: 27.5 PPG, 8.6 RPG, 9.1 APG, 1.4 SPG, 0.9 BPG
The Houston Rockets won 65 games, which was an impressive accomplishment. However, how much of that success came with the help of Chris Paul? Harden had an exceptional season, including 1.8 steals on the defensive end, but Paul always makes players around him better defensively. When you look at what James had around him, it makes his stats even more impressive.
James finished second because the Cavaliers won 50 games and fell to the four seed. Look at it as the Kobe Bryant treatment from 2005-to 2006 for his team placement. James finished with more assists, rebounds, and nearly more points. He was 1.4 win shares behind Harden in that category. He also shot the ball nearly 10% better than Harden from the field, including shooting an exact 36.7% from three-point range as Harden. How many more wins would it have taken from the Cavs to get James the MVP here?
2020 MVP Race
Ranking: 1. Giannis Antetokounmpo, 2. LeBron James, 3. James Harden, 4. Luka Doncic, 5. Kawhi Leonard
Giannis Antetokounmpo - 962 MVP Points
Stats: 29.5 PPG, 13.6 RPG, 5.6 APG, 1.0 SPG, 1.0 BPG
LeBron James - 753 MVP Points
Stats: 25.3 PPG, 7.8 RPG, 10.2 APG, 1.2 SPG, 0.5 BPG
The Milwaukee Bucks led the league with 56 wins, while the Los Angeles Lakers finished with 52. Giannis finished with more points and rebounds, while James had more assists and steals. Which conference was more competitive at this time, the East or the West? Either way, there is a solid case for this being a complete toss-up. With that said, what prevailed Giannis to the top was also winning the Defensive Player of the Year Award for his defensive rating.
While Giannis was the best defensive player, on top of averaging a standout offensive season, James was a 35-year old point-forward that also led the league in assists, while playing on a Lakers team that was right in the mix with the Bucks for the best offensive and defensive ratings in the league.
LeBron James Should Have Held The Record
Last year, James was in the position to grab the MVP Award as the oldest to ever do so. Then, he got hurt, missed significant time, and the Lakers faded towards the bottom of the NBA standings. Had he stayed healthy, he might have won his fifth MVP. Instead, it’s another example of what could have been.
James might have not deserved the MVP in all five seasons, but there is some valid evidence that he deserved the MVP in at least three of those seasons. Had that happened, James would own seven MVP Awards. That would put him at the top of the all-time rankings for the MVP Award and past Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.