Michael Jordan is widely regarded as the greatest player of all time and the 1988 MVP Award is a fine example of why. Recognized as the greatest MVP race of all time, Michael Jordan beat out 8 Hall of Famers who had MVP seasons to win the award. 1988 was a special year for Michael Jordan, who won both the MVP and the Defensive Player of the Year Award. He was simply on an entirely different level that year, as the most dominant player in the game.
But credit goes to the 9 other players who finished just short of MJ's greatness. Any one of those 9 players deserved the award, and the entire race was determined by slight margins. With the great Larry Bird finishing second place, here is the breakdown of the most incredible MVP Race that ended with Michael Jordan ahead of the pack.
10. John Stockton
14.7 PPG, 2.9 RPG, 13.8 APG, 3.0 SPG, 0.2 BPG
An incredible playmaker, John Stockton finished in the top-10 in MVP voting in 1988 by averaging an incredible double-double during the year with 14.7 PPG and 13.8 APG. Stockton was also a great pest on defense, coming up with 3.0 steals a game. Stockton was a cool 57.4% from the floor all season long, and his partnership with Karl Malone was surely a sight to behold. Stockton led the league in assists and guided the Utah Jazz to Western Conference Semi-Finals only to lose to the Los Angeles Lakers.
9. Fat Lever
18.9 PPG, 8.1 RPG, 7.8 APG, 2.7 SPG, 0.3 BPG
A player old-heads only seemingly remember Fat Lever was a special player. A miniature point guard, Lever could do it all on the court and this was a great season for him all-around. Lever led the Denver Nuggets to the second seed in the Western Conference and first in the Midwest Division. Lever was Denver's best player as they reached the Western Conference Semi-Finals. Lever also won the Player Of The Month for April as he averaged 24.8 PPG,10.2 RPG, and 8.6 APG over a spectacular 4 weeks.
8. Karl Malone
27.7 PPG, 12.0 RPG, 2.4 APG, 1.4 SPG, 0.6 BPG
With his point guard and superstar teammate finishing 10th in voting, Karl Malone finished 8th averaging 27.7 PPG and 12.0 RPG on an efficient 52.0% shooting from the field. Malone and his point guard John Stockton led the Jazz to the 5th seed in the Western Conference as they did not have enough help on the roster just yet. The Mailman was still spectacular all season and his numbers were MVP worthy if not for 7 other Hall of Famers ahead of him.
7. Hakeem Olajuwon
22.8 PPG, 12.1 RPG, 2.1 APG, 2.1 SPG, 2.7 BPG
Hakeem Olajuwon was a beast for the Houston Rockets, guiding them to 6th seed in the Western Conference. Hakeem's ability to impact both ends of the floor was sublime because he was more than just an unstoppable offensive player. Hakeem was far and away the most important figure for the Rockets and his consistency on both ends of the floor was rewarded with a top-7 finish in MVP voting. Unfortunately for Hakeem, the Rockets fell in the first round to the Dallas Mavericks in 4 games.
6. Dominique Wilkins
30.7 PPG, 6.4 RPG, 2.9 APG, 1.3 SPG, 0.6 BPG
Dominique Wilkins is one of the most underrated superstars in NBA history, and the 1988 season is a fine example of that. Wilkins dropped over 30 PPG and finished second in scoring behind Michael Jordan. Wilkins and the Hawks finished 4th in the East and made it to the Eastern Conference Semi-final. Wilkins is one of the most important figures in NBA history because his high-octane scoring and high-flying ability make him one of the most renowned athletes in Atlanta sports.
5. Clyde Drexler
27.0 PPG, 6.6 RPG, 5.8 APG, 2.5 SPG, 0.6 BPG
Clyde Drexler was the second-best shooting guard in the NBA behind Michael Jordan, and his top-5 MVP ranking was due to his leadership as a scorer for the Portland Trail Blazers. Drexler played 81 total games, shot 50.6% from the field, and 81.1% from the stripe. Drexler's consistency as a scorer and all-around player was important for the Trail Blazers finishing second in the Pacific Division behind the champion Los Angeles Lakers.
4. Charles Barkley
28.3 PPG, 11.9 RPG, 3.2 APG, 1.3 SPG, 1.3 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. In most years, Barkley would have run away with the MVP Award because he was an outstanding presence every game. Barkley played 80 total games, at 39.6 minutes per game for the Sixers. What hurt Barkley the most was that the Sixers didn't finish in a playoff spot although Charles was one of the best players in the league.
3. Magic Johnson
19.6 PPG, 6.2 RPG, 11.9 APG, 1.6 SPG, 0.2 BPG
Unsurprisingly, the greatest point guard ever appears in the top-3. Magic Johnson had a sensational season in 1988, averaging a monster double-double and also leading the Los Angeles Lakers to the first seed in the Western Conference. With Magic at the helm, the Lakers were unstoppable on offense and won the NBA title that year.
Magic Johnson would have won the MVP in any other season, but Larry Bird had an almost inhuman season while Michael Jordan had already begun solidifying himself as the best player of all-time. Magic was a special leader and deserved a top-3 finish, but falls just short to two incredible players.
2. Larry Bird
29.9 PPG, 9.3 RPG, 6.1 APG, 1.6 SPG, 0.8 BPG
Larry Bird finished second in MVP voting in 1988, and he would have run away with the award if not for Jordan's one of a kind season. Larry Bird was just a monster in every statistical category. He played 76 games with an average of 39.0 minutes per game and was a terrific marksman on the floor.
He shot 52.7% from the floor and 41.4% from deep during the year while averaging just shy of 30.0 PPG. Larry Bird also carried the Boston Celtics to the Eastern Conference Finals only to lose to the Detroit Pistons, who would force the NBA Champion Lakers to 7 games in the Finals.
1. Michael Jordan
35.0 PPG, 5.5 RPG, 5.9 APG, 3.2 SPG, 1.6 BPG
What is there to say about this man. Jordan was both the best scorer in the league and also the best defensive player in the league, posting ridiculous statistics. 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. Jordan averaged 35.0 PPG over the entire season, along with 3.2 SPG and 1.6 BPG which are incredible defensive numbers.
Even beyond numbers, Jordan was on a different level as he played all 82 games at an average of 40.4 minutes per game. MJ led the Bulls to the second seed in the East in what was probably the best regular season in Michael Jordan's Hall of Fame career.
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