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NBA MVP Award Winners From 1981 To 1990: Larry Bird And Magic Johnson Win 3 Awards Each, Michael Jordan Has The Greatest MVP Season Ever

NBA MVP Award Winners From 1981 To 1990: Larry Bird And Magic Johnson Win 3 Awards Each, Michael Jordan Has The Greatest MVP Season Ever

Winning the MVP award has to be arguably the greatest regular-season achievement for any player on an individual level. Winning the most valuable player award essentially means that a player was not only the best player on his team but usually the best performing player in the league. Most All-Stars and superstar players would gladly trade in their MVP awards for rings, but that should not take away from the elusive accolade.

We have collected all the MVP award winners from 1981 to 1990, and it is very interesting to notice that two players completely owned the decade in terms of individual dominance on the court. In fact, there were only 5 different MVP winners throughout the entire decade. Here are the NBA MVP winners from the 1981 season until the 1990 season.


1980-81 MVP Award Winner - Julius Erving

Julius Erving

Stats: 24.6 PPG, 8.0 RPG, 4.4 APG, 2.1 SPG, 1.8 BPG

Arguably the greatest dunker in NBA history, Julius Erving was one heck of a player during his prime. In the 1981 season, Julius Erving led the Philadelphia 76ers to an impressive 62-20 record which was good for 2nd in the Eastern Conference.

Beyond being an elite athlete with some spectacular dunking skills, Dr. J dropped 24.6 PPG on 52.1% shooting and showcased an array of all-around ability and scoring prowess. Erving was so good, that the 76ers had the belief of winning an NBA championship despite the presence of the Boston Celtics. Instead, the 76ers reached the Eastern Conference Finals at the end of the year.


1981-82 MVP Award Winner - Moses Malone

Moses Malone

Stats: 31.1 PPG, 14.7 RPG, 1.8 APG, 0.9 SPG, 1.5 BPG

Moses Malone is one of the all-time greats, make no mistake about it. But somehow, he is often forgotten when mentioning the most dominant players of all time. By looking at his numbers, it is obvious Moses was a sensational center. In the 1982 season, Moses Malone won his second MVP and second of two straight.

He averaged 31.1 PPG and 14.7 RPG in 42.0 MPG of play, and his rebounding numbers led the league for the second time in a row. Moses was not only a spectacular athlete for the Houston Rockets but a winner by leading them to a 46-36 record.


1982-83 MVP Award Winner - Moses Malone

Moses Malone

Stats: 24.5 PPG, 15.3 RPG, 1.3 APG, 1.1 SPG, 2.0 BPG

Moses captured his third MVP award and second-straight award in 1983, once again putting up legendary numbers on both ends of the floor. The big man averaged 24.5 PP and 15.3 RPG, chipping in 2.0 BPG as well.

Thanks to his agility and impressive shooting touch from the floor, Malone led the Philadelphia 76ers to the best record in the league at 65-17. Alongside his teammates Julius Erving and Andrew Toney, Malone carried the 76ers to the NBA championship while also winning Finals MVP in a legendary year.


1983-84 MVP Award Winner - Larry Bird

Larry Bird

Stats: 24.2 PPG, 10.1 RPG, 6.6 APG, 1.8 SPG, 0.9 BPG

In 1984, the year of Larry Legend started. The Boston Celtics forward began a three-year streak of dominance which included 3 straight MVP awards. Bird dropped a monster double-double during the year while also showing elite shot-making and passing ability.

Averaging 6.6 APG, Bird put up the highest passing numbers to date. Of course, the Celtics benefitted by grabbing the league’s best record at 62-20 and eventually winning the championship. The narrative of the best player on the best team in the league earned Larry Legend his first MVP trophy.


1984-85 MVP Award Winner - Larry Bird

Larry Bird's Legendary 47-Point 'Left-Handed' Game: “I’m Saving My Right Hand For The Lakers.”

Credit: Getty Images

Stats: 28.7 PPG, 10.5 RPG, 6.6 APG, 1.6 SPG, 1.2 BPG

For the second straight year, Larry Bird won MVP award honors by once again dropping a monster double-double with the second-highest PPG average of his career. Larry Legend once again led the Boston Celtics to the best record in the league.

Bird was efficient as well, nailing 52.2% from the field, 42.7% from three, and 82.2% from the stripe. The Celtics went as Larry went, and that is how they reached the NBA Finals yet again except they lost to the Los Angeles Lakers. Regardless, Bird was the undisputed best player in the game.


1985-86 MVP Award Winner - Larry Bird

Larry Bird's High School Coach Jim Jones On Bird's Competitiveness: "I Told Him, 'If You Can Run Suicides In 30 Seconds I'll Take You To Sectionals'... Of Course He Did It... His Will To Win Was Ungodly."

Stats: 25.8 PPG, 9.8 RPG, 6.8 APG, 2.0 SPG, 0.6 BPG

Amazingly, Bird captured the third straight MVP award in 1986. Larry Legend somehow improved with his passing and shooting, as he averaged an impressive 6.8 APG while nailing a career-high 89.6% of his foul shots.

A shot-maker from anywhere on the floor and an incredible leader, Bird once again led the Boston Celtics to the best record in the league at 67-15. Thanks to Bird’s elite scoring ability and competitiveness, the Celtics ended up winning the championship again with the forward earning Finals MVP honors. It was a special time to see Larry Bird and Magic Johnson battle it out as the face of the league as a young Michael Jordan starts coming into his own.


1986-87 MVP Award Winner - Magic Johnson

Magic Johnson

Stats: 23.9 PPG, 6.3 RPG, 12.2 APG, 1.7 SPG, 0.5 BPG

The NBA was a great place when Larry Bird and Magic Johnson were sharing MVP votes. The league took a massive step in terms of global audience and competition was at its highest. In 1987, the legendary point guard captured his first MVP trophy by leading the league in assists for the 4th time in his career.

Magic was the architect of “Showtime” because his ball-handling and passing ability created one of the most unstoppable offenses the league has ever seen. Thanks to his 6’9” frame and massively broad shoulders, Magic dominated the court at his position unlike anyone else in NBA history. Of course, the Lakers would win the NBA title at the end of the year with Magic earning Finals MVP honors.


1987-88 MVP Award Winner - Michael Jordan

Michael Jordan

Stats: 35.0 PPG, 5.5 RPG, 5.9 APG, 3.2 SPG, 1.6 BPG

Michael Jordan’s 1988 MVP season is considered to be the single greatest season by any player ever. While there are a ton of contenders for that title, it is hard to argue against that considering what the 24-year-old did for the Chicago Bulls.

Jordan led the league in scoring for the second straight year at 35.0 PPG but did it at impressive efficiency by nailing 53.5% from the field and 84.1% from the stripe. Of course, Jordan led the league in steals and won Defensive Player of the Year as a guard. Even though it was still Larry Bird and Magic Johnson’s league, Jordan was doing special things at a young age.


1988-89 MVP Award Winner - Magic Johnson

Magic Johnson

Stats: 22.5 PPG, 7.9 RPG, 12.8 APG, 1.8 SPG, 0.3 BPG

Magic Johnson assumed control of the league again in 1989, making a career-high 91.1% of his free throws and once again putting up a monster double-double with the Lakers. Thanks to the superstar point guard’s floor leadership, the Lakers finished with the best record in the West.

Johnson finished 2nd in the league in APG behind John Stockton and led the league in free-throw percentage, strong factors behind the Lakers successful campaign. As expected, the Lakers made a deep run in the playoffs but lost to the Pistons in 4 games. But behind Magic Johnson, the Lakers were a force in the West and the following season would prove that.


1989-90 MVP Award Winner - Magic Johnson

Magic Johnson

Stats: 22.3 PPG, 6.6 RPG, 11.5 APG, 1.7 SPG, 0.4 BPG

For the third time in his career, the great Magic Johnson won the MVP award. The legendary point guard put up yet another double-double and led the Lakers to the best record in the NBA and 1st in the Western Conference.

As expected, Magic ran the show better than anyone could. Even if John Stockton was ahead of him in assists, he was not as impactful as Magic was for his side. With his unique playing style and pinpoint passing, Johnson was the easy choice for the MVP award even if the Lakers faltered in the second round of the postseason.

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