Last week we covered the NBA players who have won the most MVP awards. Now, it is time to speak about the other major individual award, and arguably the more important one, the Finals MVP award. The players who have won this award stepped up on the biggest stage there is in basketball, the NBA Finals. Not only did these players step up, but they usually were the difference between their team winning a championship or not. The Finals MVP award has only ever been given out one team to the member of the losing team in the NBA Finals, but we will get to that a little later.
The Finals MVP award has only been given out since the 1969 NBA Finals. This brings up the man that the award is named after, Bill Russell. From 1957 through 1969, Bill Russell was the key member of 11 Boston Celtics championship teams. It is fair to assume that had the award been given during their reign, Bill Russell may be the all-time leader in Finals MVP awards. There are also the players that have taken the award home just one time. These players shall be celebrated as well. The players listed here today are in history as some of the greatest in the game’s history.
These are the NBA players who have the most Finals MVP awards in the history of the game.
Players Who Have Won Finals MVP One Time
Jerry West (1969), Wilt Chamberlain (1972), John Havlicek (1974), Rick Barry (1975), Jo Jo White (1976), Bill Walton (1977), Wes Unseld (1978), Dennis Johnson (1979), Cedric Maxwell (1981), Moses Malone (1983), James Worthy (1988), Joe Dumars (1989), Isiah Thomas (1990), Chauncey Billups (2004), Dwyane Wade (2006), Tony Parker (2007), Paul Pierce (2008), Dirk Nowitzki (2011), Andre Iguodala (2015), Giannis Antetokounmpo (2021), Stephen Curry (2022)
As you can see, some of the greatest players who delivered all-time great performances have won Finals MVP just once. Jerry West won his only Finals MVP in the inaugural season that the award was given out. He is also the only player to do so on the team that lost the series. You can also see after the departure of Bill Russell in 1969, the NBA became much more competitive as 7 onetime winners claimed the award in the decade, as new teams became championship caliber year after year. Since 2000, there have been a total of 8 onetime winners.
Another interesting trend in Finals MVP winners has been the influx of international players leading their teams to championships. It started in 1994 when Hakeem Olajuwon claimed his first of two Finals MVP awards. Since then, Tony Parker, Dirk Nowitzki, and Giannis Antetokounmpo have joined the club as well. In the past 2 seasons, we have seen first-time winners of the awards with Giannis Antetokounmpo in 2021 and Stephen Curry in 2022. These players are greats and legends, but it is time to move on to the ones that shined brightest on the NBA’s biggest stage. The elite of the elite in NBA history has grabbed themselves multiple Finals MVP awards and drove home a championship for their team and city on more than one occasion.
Willis Reed - 2 Finals MVP Awards
Finals MVP Awards: 1970, 1973
Willis Reed is arguably the greatest center in Knicks' history. He even has a case for the franchise’s best player ever, and his performances in the NBA Finals are why. Willis Reed’s first Finals MVP award came in legendary fashion in 1970. Reed had already been named the All-Star Game MVP and 1970 MVP and led his Knicks to the Finals against the Los Angeles Lakers. Reed and the Knicks would take a 3-2 series lead in Game 5, but Reed suffered a torn thigh muscle that left his status for the rest of the series in doubt. He would sit out Game 6 but return in dramatic fashion in Game 7. He would only play one half and end up with 4 points and 3 rebounds, but his defense on Chamberlain was the key. Reed and the Knicks would take Game 7, and Reed would win Finals MVP.
The second time that Willis Reed won the Finals MVP trophy would be in 1973 in yet another matchup with Wilt Chamberlain and the Lakers. This time, the Knicks would dominate the Lakers in 5 games to win their 2nd championship in 4 years. Reed would average 16.4 PPG and 9.2 RPG to win his 2nd Finals MVP award. This included a Game 5 series-sealing performance of 18 points, 12 rebounds, and 7 assists. Once again, it would be Reed’s swarming defense on Wilt Chamberlain that proved to be the difference maker. Willis Reed is the only Finals MVP in New York Knicks history.
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar - 2 Finals MVP Awards
Finals MVP Awards: 1971, 1985
Kareem won both his Finals MVP awards 15 years removed from one another and on two different teams. The first time he led his team to a championship was with the 1971 Milwaukee Bucks. With the addition of Oscar Robertson to the team, they thrived all the way to the NBA Finals against the Washington Bullets. Kareem exploded in the first two games, going for 31 points and 17 rebounds in Game 1 and 27 points and 24 rebounds in Game 2. He led the Bucks to a sweep of the Bullets and finished the series with averages of 27.0 PPG and 18.5 RPG to win Finals MVP.
The next time that Kareem would win Finals MVP would be 15 seasons later with the Los Angeles Lakers. Alongside Magic Johnson, Kareem and the Lakers made multiple Finals appearances in the decade and were victorious 5 times. Kareem was an all-around force to be reckoned with against the Boston Celtics in 1985, impacting the game in big ways on both sides of the ball. He helped the Lakers dismiss the Celtics in 6 games with averages of 25.7 PPG, 9.0 RPG, 5.2 APG, 1.0 SPG, and 1.5 BPG. Kareem would retire in 1989 after claiming 2 more titles in 1987 and 1988.
Larry Bird - 2 Finals MVP Awards
Finals MVP Awards: 1984, 1986
Both of Larry Bird’s Finals MVP performances came in seasons in which he also won the regular season MVP award. Bird and Magic Johnson rivaled for much of their basketball careers dating back to their college days. Things were no different in the NBA, as they met up many times in the NBA Finals. Bird and the Celtics first got the best of Magic and the Lakers in 1984. Bird would lead Boston to a 7-game series win behind a series of 27.4 PPG, 14.0 RPG, and 2.1 SPG from the Finals MVP. This included a gigantic Game 5 performance from Larry Bird, where he scored 29 points and grabbed 21 rebounds.
After a loss in the NBA Finals to Magic and the Lakers in 1985, Bird would lead the Celtics back to the NBA Finals in 1986. This time, it would be Hakeem Olajuwon and the Houston Rockets that they would take on. Bird would make his presence known almost immediately, playing like a man possessed in Game 2 with 31 points, 8 rebounds, 7 assists, 4 steals, and 3 blocks. Bird and the Celtics would wrap up the series in 6 games. He would be named Finals MVP for the second time with 24.0 PPG, 9.7 RPG, 9.5 APG, and 2.7 SPG.
Hakeem Olajuwon - 2 Finals MVP Awards
Finals MVP Awards: 1994, 1995
Hakeem Olajuwon has 2 of the most impressive Finals runs in NBA history. With Michael Jordan’s unexpected retirement in 1994, the NBA was wide open for the taking, and Olajuwon and his Houston Rockets took advantage. In 1994, Hakeem had already brought home the MVP award for his incredible 1994 season. His work wasn’t done as he led the Rockets to a matchup with the New York Knicks in the NBA Finals. Olajuwon and the Rockets battled to a 7-game series victory with Hakeem leading both teams in scoring every single night. He would win the Finals MVP award with averages of 26.9 PPG, 9.1 RPG, 1.6 SPG, and 3.9 BPG, getting the best of Patrick Ewing all series long.
The Rockets were back in the NBA Finals the next year in 1995. They weren’t supposed to be after finishing the season as the No. 6 seed in the Western Conference. Nevertheless, Hakeem stepped up big time and led the Rockets back to the NBA Finals against a young Shaquille O’Neal and the Orlando Magic. Hakeem would dominate the series in an emphatic fashion in a 4-0 sweep. He averaged 32.8 PPG, 11.5 RPG, 5.5 APG, 2.0 SPG, and 2.0 BPG to claim his second consecutive Finals MVP award.
Kobe Bryant - 2 Finals MVP Awards
Finals MVP Awards: 2009, 2010
Back in 2009, the chatter began to ring throughout the NBA about if Kobe Bryant could lead the Lakers to the championship in life after Shaquille O’Neal. Coming off of an NBA Finals loss to the Boston Celtics in 2008, Kobe Bryant set out on a mission to prove those doubters wrong. He would do just that as he would lead the Los Angeles Lakers back to the NBA Finals against the Orlando Magic in 2009. Kobe Bryant got the ball rolling from the get-go as he started the series with a 40-point performance in a Game 1 blowout win. He wouldn’t stop there as he went on a torrid scoring run for the rest of the series. He averaged 32.4 PPG, 5.6 RPG, 7.4 APG, 1.4 SPG, and 1.4 BPG to lead the Lakers to a 5-game series victory and his first Finals MVP award.
The following season was all about two things. The naysayers that said he couldn’t do it again and avenging his only Finals loss to the Boston Celtics. The Lakers and Celtics would meet up for a rematch of the 2008 NBA Finals, this time Kobe would not be denied. Kobe and the Lakers found themselves in a dogfight once again as the series headed to 7 games. The Black Mamba would lead all scorers in 6 out of the 7 games, including Game 7, to claim the championship. Kobe would average 28.6 PPG, 8.0 RPG, 3.9 APG, and 2.1 SPG to claim his 5th title and 2nd straight Finals MVP award.
Kevin Durant - 2 Finals MVP Awards
Finals MVP Awards: 2017, 2018
In the 2016 offseason, Kevin Durant shocked the basketball world when he announced that he would be leaving the Oklahoma City Thunder in free agency to join the powerhouse Golden State Warriors. Both the team and Durant knew they need each other if either wanted to win multiple championships. Durant and the Warriors did just that, steamrolling their way to the NBA Finals in both 2017 and 2018. Durant and the Warriors would meet up with LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers for the first time in 2017. Kevin Durant would take over the series and Golden State would win in 5 games. Durant claimed his first Finals MVP award with 35.2 PPG, 8.2 RPG, 5.2 APG, and 1.6 BPG.
The debate was on between LeBron James and Kevin Durant as to who was the best player in the world and it would come to a head once again in the NBA Finals in 2018. This time, Durant and the Warriors made even easier work of the Cavaliers. Golden State would claim their 3rd championship in a runaway 4-game sweep. Durant would average 28.8 PPG, 10.8 RPG, 7.5 APG, and 2.3 BPG to claim his second straight Finals MVP. The Warriors would go back to the Finals in 2019 but hopes for a three-peat were thwarted when Durant tore his Achilles tendon.
Kawhi Leonard - 2 Finals MVP Awards
Finals MVP Awards: 2014, 2019
Kawhi Leonard is the second player on our list to win the Finals MVP award with 2 different teams. The first time he would win the award was as a young man with the San Antonio Spurs. After a heartbreaking loss to LeBron James and the Miami Heat in 2013, Leonard and the Spurs found themselves right back in the NBA Finals against them in 2014. The Spurs and Kawhi’s plan was one thing: stop LeBron James at all costs. Kawhi delivered as he would pester James all series long and not allow him to take over games as he is accustomed to doing. The Spurs dismantled the Heat in 5 games. Leonard was awarded his first Finals MVP mostly on the back of his defensive efforts on James in the series.
The second time that Leonard won the award was one of the most unexpected Finals runs in NBA history. After being traded to the Toronto Raptors in the 2018 offseason, Kawhi was determined to make a statement. He would do just that in the 2019 playoffs. In the 2nd round, Kawhi hit one of the most iconic buzzer beaters in playoff history in Game 7 to take down the Philadelphia 76ers. Then in a matchup with the Warriors in the NBA Finals, Leonard controlled the game on offense and defense to lead the Raptors to their first title in franchise history 6 games. For the series, Leonard averaged 28.5 PPG, 9.8 RPG, 4.2 APG, 2.0 SPG, and 1.2 BPG to win his 2nd Finals MVP award.
Magic Johnson - 3 Finals MVP Awards
Finals MVP Awards: 1980, 1982, 1987
In 3 out of his 5 title runs with the Los Angeles Lakers, Magic Johnson would be named Finals MVP. He wasted no time in accomplishing the feat, as he would do so as the only rookie in NBA history to win Finals MVP. Magic would lead the Lakers to the Finals against the super dangerous Philadelphia 76ers. The series would go to a 7th game where Johnson would deliver one of the great performances in NBA Finals history. Filling in for an injured Kareem, Magic would start at the center position where he recorded 42 points, 15 rebounds, and 7 assists to will the Lakers to victory. This game cemented his selection as Finals MVP.
Magic and the Lakers would face off with the 76ers once again in 1982. This time, Magic took care of Philadelphia in 6 games. He averaged 16.2 PPG, 10.8 RPG, and 8.0 APG to claim his 2nd Finals MVP award. Magic would faceoff with his longtime rival, Larry Bird in the 1987 NBA Finals. He would finally shine through against the Celtics, delivering an all-around beat down for his 3rd Finals MVP. In the 6 games, he averaged 26.2 PPG, 8.0 RPG, 13.0 APG, and 2.3 SPG.
Shaquille O’Neal - 3 Finals MVP Awards
Finals MVP Awards: 2000, 2001, 2002
Only 5 players in NBA history have ever won 3 or more Finals MVP awards. Shaquille O’Neal became the 3rd man to do so back in his early 2000s run that saw him establish himself as the most dominant player in the NBA. He took the NBA by storm in 2000, winning the scoring title, All-Star Game MVP, MVP, and Finals MVP in the same season. He capped it off with a 38.0 PPG and 16.7 RPG Finals series against the Pacers that saw the Lakers win in 6 games. It would be the first of 3 straight Finals MVP awards for Shaq.
The following season, the Lakers were unstoppable in the NBA playoffs. They faced off with Allen Iverson and the 76ers in the NBA Finals without losing a game on the way. Iverson changed that in Game 1 when he and the Sixers upset the Lakers on their home court. Not to be denied, Shaq and the Lakers would win 4 straight games to win the championship. The Lakers would make it back to the Finals again in 2002, this time in a matchup with the New Jersey Nets. The Nets were severely outmatched by Shaq and the Lakers would sweep them in 4 games. Shaq averaged 36.3 PPG and 12.3 RPG to win his 3rd straight ring and Finals MVP.
Tim Duncan - 3 Finals MVP Awards
Finals MVP Awards: 1999, 2003, 2005
Tim Duncan became the 4th man to win at least 3 Finals MVP awards on a run that saw him lead the San Antonio Spurs to 5 titles during his career. The first of 3 awards came in just his second season in the NBA. Duncan led the Spurs to the NBA Finals against the New York Knicks. The Knicks simply had no answer for Duncan as the Spurs won the series in 5 games behind 27.4 PPG, 14.0 RPG, and 2.2 BPG from Duncan. He would get the Spurs back to the Finals in 2003, where they faced off with the New Jersey Nets. Duncan was again unstoppable with a 32-point, 20-rebound performance in Game 1 to set the tone.
He would claim his second Finals MVP with 24.2 PPG, 17.0 RPG, 5.3 APG, and 5.3 BPG. Two years later, Duncan had the Spurs right back once more in the NBA Finals. This time it would be a knockdown, drag-out fight against the defending champion Detroit Pistons. Duncan and the Spurs battled the Pistons in a 7-game slugfest that saw the Spurs remain as the last team standing. Duncan led the charge as he claimed his 3rd Finals MVP with a 7-game series of 20.6 PPG, 14.1 RPG, and 2.1 BPG.
LeBron James - 4 Finals MVP Awards
Finals MVP Awards: 2012, 2013, 2016, 2020
LeBron James is one of the greatest NBA Finals performers in NBA history. He is much better than his 4-6 record says, as we have seen him take teams that had no business competing to the promised land. He is the only player in NBA history to deliver 3 championships and win 3 Finals MVP awards with 3 different teams. His first 2 championships were special of course as he avenged his 2011 meltdown against the Mavericks to the tune of back-to-back title runs. Perhaps no championship was as special as the next one he would claim.
In 2016, LeBron James was determined to bring a championship to his home city of Cleveland. After falling just short in 2015, James brought them back in 2016 against a familiar foe, the Golden State Warriors who had just won 73 games. After falling down 3-1 in the series, things looked bleak for LeBron to deliver on his promise. He dug deep and willed the Cavs to 3 straight wins to snatch the title and claim Finals MVP with 29.7 PPG, 11.3 RPG, 8.9 APG, 2.6 SPG, and 2.3 BPG. He would win his 4th title and Finals MVP 4 seasons later with the Los Angeles Lakers. After the league restarted in a bubble after the league-wide shutdown due to COVID-19, LeBron James took advantage of their rest. In one of the more difficult basketball environments you will ever see, James and Anthony Davis delivered the Lakers a championship. James claimed his 4th MVP with 29.8 PPG, 11.8 RPG, and 8.5 APG in the 6-game series win.
Michael Jordan - 6 Finals MVP Awards
Finals MVP Awards: 1991, 1992, 1993, 1996, 1997, 1998
Michael Jordan is hands down the greatest NBA Finals performer of all time. He has appeared in 6 Finals series and led his Chicago Bulls to victory all 6 times. What makes it all more impressive is that they did it in the form of two separate three-peats in the 90s. He won 3 Finals MVPs in a row from 1991 to 1993, took nearly 2 full seasons off, and came back to win three more Finals MVPs in a row from 1996 to 1998. In 35 career games in the NBA Finals, Jordan’s Bulls went 24-11 with him in the lineup. In those games, Jordan averaged 33.6 PPG, 6.0 RPG, 6.0 APG, and 1.8 SPG while shooting 48.1% from the field.
Jordan’s first Finals win is probably the sweetest as it came on the heels of years of abuse in the playoffs from the Detroit Pistons and Boston Celtics. In the 1991 NBA Finals, Jordan and the Bulls faced off against the Los Angeles Lakers and Magic Johnson. Jordan took over like a man possessed and threw aside the Lakers in 5 games with 31.2 PPG, 6.6 RPG, 11.4 APG, and 2.8 SPG. His 6th and last Finals MVP of his career is probably the 2nd sweetest win of his career. After years of basketball together, the Chicago Bulls dynasty was about to come to an end. In the legendary “Last Dance” season, Jordan led the Bulls for the final time to the top of the mountain against the Utah Jazz. Jordan averaged 33.5 PPG, 4.0 RPG, and 1.8 SPG to seal the championship in 6 games for Chicago. The most iconic moment of the series came when Michael Jordan delivered the championship-winning shot over Bryon Russell in the final seconds of Game 6. It was the perfect way for the G.O.A.T to ride off into the sunset.