In the NBA, the Most Valuable Player award has been given out at the end of every season since 1955-56. The award is given out to the league’s most outstanding player, who made the largest impact on winning. There have been controversial choices, of course, but for the most part, the NBA and its voters usually get it right. From time to time, we wonder who were the biggest MVP snubs in NBA history, and people usually mention Kobe Bryant losing to Steve Nash in 2006 or Derrick Rose winning in 2011 over LeBron James.
Our list today will show the 10 biggest MVP snubs in NBA history. There have been countless times in NBA history that an MVP race was so close that one guy had to be snubbed in order for a winner to be declared. There have been other instances of flat-out robbery where one player clearly deserved the award, but it was given to someone else.
It's time to see the 10 biggest MVP snubs in NBA history.
10. Allen Iverson Over Shaquille O’Neal (2000-01 Season)
Allen Iverson Stats: 31.1 PPG, 3.8 RPG, 4.6 APG, 2.5 SPG, 0.3 BPG, 56-26 Record
Shaquille O’Neal Stats: 28.7 PPG, 12.7 RPG, 3.7 APG, 0.6 SPG, 2.8 BPG
During the early 2000s and, more specifically, 2000 to 2004, there was no doubt who the best and most dominant player in basketball was. In 2000-01, Shaquille O’Neal was in the meat of his prime while leading the Lakers to multiple championships and winning multiple Finals MVP awards. Allen Iverson was one of the most exciting players in the league at the same time. No one really batted an eye when Iverson was awarded the MVP in 2001. He won the scoring title with 31.1 PPG and led the league in steals at 2.5 SPG while leading the Philadelphia 76ers to 56 wins. Was he more valuable or even better than Shaq at the time?
Most people like to point out that Allen Iverson “dragged” that 76ers team to 56 wins and an NBA Finals appearance. Here’s the thing, that 76ers team also had the Defensive Player of the Year Dikembe Mutombo, Sixth Man of the Year Aaron McKie, and Coach of the Year Larry Brown. The team was regarded as one of the better all-around defensive teams in basketball. Iverson was fantastic and his season should be celebrated, but Shaq was unstoppable. The Lakers and Sixers would meet in the NBA Finals with Iverson and the Sixers were able to steal a game from the Lakers who were unbeaten in the playoffs up to that point. Shaq would lead the Lakers while absolutely dominating Defensive Player of the Year Dikembe Mutombo to their 2nd championship in a row. Shaq’s 33.0 PPG and 15.8 RPG in the Finals were all I needed to see to show me who was more valuable that season.
9. Wes Unseld Over Willis Reed (1968-69 Season)
Wes Unseld Stats: 13.8 PPG, 18.2 RPG, 2.6 APG, 57-25 Record
Willis Reed Stats: 21.1 PPG, 14.5 RPG, 2.5 APG, 54-28 Record
The 1968-69 MVP race in the NBA is still a very confusing one to me. Wes Unseld was a rookie and his addition to the Bullets, along with Earl Monroe and Kevin Loughery, propelled them to 54 wins and a 1st place finish in the Eastern Division. Willis Reed, on the other hand, helped lead the Knicks to 54 wins and a 3rd place finish in the same Eastern Division. When we take a look at who is more valuable to their team, it had to have come down to the voters valuing just rebounds over scoring and rebounds. Only 3 wins separated these 2 teams in the win-loss column, so how does that make Unseld the MVP?
The most interesting part of this MVP race is that the Knicks and Bullets would face off in the first round of the 1969 playoffs. Reed was clearly upset that he didn’t take home the MVP award because he and the Knicks laid an absolute beat down on Baltimore. Unseld held his own in the series with 18.8 PPG and 18.5 PPG, but nothing could stop Reed from avenging his MVP snub. In Games 3 and 4, it was all Willis Reed as in Game 3 he would go for 35 points and 19 rebounds in a 119-116 win. In Game 4, Reed went for 43 points and 17 rebounds to complete the 4-game sweep. He averaged 28.3 PPG and 15.0 RPG for the series and left no doubt as to who was more valuable.
8. Bill Walton Over George Gervin (1977-78 Season)
Bill Walton Stats: 18.9 PPG, 13.2 RPG, 5.0 APG, 1.0 SPG, 2.5 BPG, 58-24 Record
George Gervin Stats: 27.2 PPG, 5.1 RPG, 3.7 APG, 1.7 SPG, 1.3 BPG, 52-30 Record
The 1977-78 MVP race was as close as they come with Bill Walton edging out George Gervin 96 points to 80. Gervin won the scoring title that season averaging 27.2 PPG on 53.6% shooting. It was clear who the better offensive player was at the time, but Walton ended up taking home the award for being on the No. 1 team in the NBA. Is it possible that the players who voted for Walton were rewarding him for winning the NBA Finals and Finals MVP the year prior? It wouldn't be the first time.
Walton's Trail Blazers finished 6 games ahead of Gervin's Spurs in 1977-78 with a 58-24 record. In 1976-77, he led the Trail Blazers to their first and only championship in franchise history. This was the first of a string of 3 straight scoring titles for "The Iceman". If there was any season that Gervin could have taken home an MVP award, it was in 1977-78. However, Gervin would not win this season or in any other season of his career, making him one of the greatest players to never be honored with an MVP award.
7. Derrick Rose Over LeBron James (2010-11 Season)
Derrick Rose Stats: 25.0 PPG, 4.1 RPG, 7.7 APG, 1.0 SPG, 0.6 BPG, 62-20 Record
LeBron James Stats: 26.7 PPG, 7.5 RPG, 7.0 APG, 1.6 SPG, 0.6 BPG, 58-24 Record
In the 2010-11 season, Derrick Rose was named the youngest MVP in NBA history. He led the Bulls to a 62-20 record, good for the best record in basketball. There were definitely reasons that Rose should have won the award. He was the most exciting player in basketball that year and was guaranteed must-watch television every single night. He led the Bulls to their best season since Michael Jordan despite not having 2 of his best teammates for over half of it. Was he actually better than LeBron James, though?
LeBron in 2010-11 was enjoying his first season as a member of the Miami Heat. He was clearly the most well-rounded star in the league at the time and led the Heat to a 58-24 record. With just 4 wins separating their teams, what is the real reason that Rose won this award? LeBron was clearly the better offensive player. Scoring, passing, and shooting were all things that James was simply better at that season. On the defensive side, this was LeBron’s defensive peak. He was one of the most dangerous defenders in basketball with his ability to bait opponents into bad passes while also defending opposing big men in the paint. The NBA would make it up to James in 2012 and 2013 with MVP awards back-to-back, but don’t you think it should have been a three-peat?
6. Karl Malone Over Michael Jordan (1996-97 Season)
Karl Malone Stats: 27.4 PPG, 9.9 RPG, 4.5 APG, 1.4 SPG, 0.6 BPG, 64-18 Record
Michael Jordan Stats: 29.6 PPG, 5.9 RPG, 4.3 APG, 1.7 SPG, 0.5 BPG, 69-13 Record
It is one of the rare occurrences that we get to speak about Michael Jordan coming in 2nd in something. Jordan lost the MVP voting in points by a score of 986-957. The winner would be Karl Malone, who led the Utah Jazz to a 64-18 record and averaged 27.4 PPG, 9.9 RPG, and 1.4 SPG. Malone was spectacular, there is no getting around that as he shot 55.0% from the field and 75.5% from the foul line but the award probably went to the wrong guy as we would learn later on in 1997.
Jordan would take home his 9th scoring title in 1996-97, finishing just shy of 30.0 PPG once again with 29.6 PPG. He led the Bulls to a 69-13 record, 3 wins less than their record-setting season in 1996. Jordan led the NBA in PPG, shots made, win shares, and Box Plus/Minus for the 1996-97 season, adding to his case for being the MVP. As documented in the “Last Dance” documentary, Jordan took the MVP loss personally. He exacted his revenge in the NBA Finals by dismantling the Jazz in 6 games for his 5th NBA championship and 5th Finals MVP award.
5. Willis Reed Over Jerry West (1969-70 Season)
Willis Reed Stats: 21.7 PPG, 13.9 RPG, 2.0 APG, 60-22 Record
Jerry West Stats: 31.2 PPG, 4.6 RPG, 7.5 APG, 46-36 Record
The case of the 1970 MVP clearly came down to the team success argument. The Knicks went on to win 60 games behind Willis Reed and the Lakers won just 46 games with West. If we dove a bit deeper, you could see that West was slightly more valuable and had a much better individual season than Reed did with New York. Jerry West won the scoring title averaging 31.2 PPG and dished out 7.5 APG. Reed averaged just 21.7 PPG and dished out 2 assists. Of course, Reed out-rebounded West, but we are comparing a center to a shooting guard, so that should be obvious.
The players were still voting for the MVP in 1970, and Reed had their respect. West did as well, but Reed was slightly more for his toughness and tenacity in fighting through injuries. These two teams would go on to face off in a classic NBA Finals in 1970. Reed would win Finals MVP as the Knicks were victorious in 7 games. This is the series that Reed famously tore his thigh muscle and took pain relieving injections before Game 7 in order to play. His defense on Wilt Chamberlain changed the course of the series and brought a title to New York. While the Finals MVP was a no-brainer, the regular season MVP should have been West’s.
4. Dave Cowens Over Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (1972-73 Season)
Dave Cowens Stats: 20.5 PPG, 16.2 RPG, 4.1 APG, 68-14 Record
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar Stats: 30.2 PPG, 16.1 RPG, 5.0 APG, 60-22 Record
The 1972-73 MVP award can only be attributed to one thing, team success. With all due respect to Dave Cowens, who had a monster season to lead the Celtics to a 68-14 record, but Kareem Abdul-Jabbar was better across the board. Cowens’ year was very respectable as he averaged 20.5 PPG and 16.2 RPG on 45.2% shooting. Kareem led the Bucks to a 60-22 record with 30.2 PPG, 16.1 RPG, and 5.0 APG on 55.4% shooting. This is also during a time that steals and blocks were not recorded, so you can only imagine how that would have added to Kareem’s outstanding season.
Kareem’s near win in 1973 almost gave him his 7th MVP award from 1971 to 1980. He is the all-time winningest MVP with 6 wins in his career. His 1972-73 season saw him finish second in the NBA in scoring and 4th in rebounds. His 55.4% shooting ranked 3rd in basketball while Cowens didn’t even crack the Top 20 in that category. Of all the seasons that Kareem won the MVP, this one should have been one of the more obvious victories for him, but the voters did not agree and those voters were Kareem and Cowens’ fellow players still.
3. Oscar Robertson Over Wilt Chamberlain (1963-64 Season)
Oscar Robertson Stats: 31.4 PPG, 9.9 RPG, 11.0 APG, 55-24 Record
Wilt Chamberlain Stats: 36.9 PPG, 22.3 RPG, 5.0 APG, 48-32 Record
Oscar Robertson nearly averaged a triple-double for the 1963-64 season, which led to 55 wins for his team. Haven’t we learned by now that the triple-double may be a bit overrated? Yes, the numbers for Robertson that season was outstanding, and the Royals won 55 games, but what Wilt did for the Warriors at the time impressed me far more. Wilt led the league in scoring with 36.4 PPG and averaged over 22.0 RPG to go with it. Wilt was also slightly more efficient than Robertson in 1963-64, but that is to be expected when you dominate the paint as he did.
Honestly, how well did Robertson’s performance translate to the playoffs? Well, in 1963-64, Robertson’s Royals were eliminated in the 2nd round while Wilt and the Warriors battled to the NBA Finals but lost to the Celtics in 5 games. Robertson never had much playoff success until later in his career when he joined Kareem in Milwaukee. Wilt delivered a championship in 1967 to the 76ers alongside Hal Greer. Overall, Wilt should have been the MVP in 1963-64 and I don’t really see an argument against it.
2. Steve Nash Over Kobe Bryant (2005-06 Season)
Steve Nash Stats: 18.8 PPG, 4.2 RPG, 10.5 APG, 0.8 SPG, 0.2 BPG, 54-28 Record
Kobe Bryant Stats: 35.4 PPG, 5.3 RPG, 4.5 APG, 1.8 SPG, 0.4 BPG, 45-37 Record
The 2006 MVP race is as confusing of a race as any. Kobe Bryant was the ultimate snub in this race, finishing with the 2nd most first-place votes but somehow finishing 4th in the race overall. Listen, Steve Nash deserved consideration for the way he orchestrated the most prolific offense in the entire NBA, but he had guys like Raja Bell, Shawn Marion, and Leandro Barbosa to back him up. Marion was a 21.8 PPG and 11.8 RPG player that season while playing elite defense on some of the game’s best players. Have you seen what Kobe had to work with in 2006?
Kobe’s supporting cast in 2005-06 was less than average. He had a version of Lamar Odom that was more equipped to lead the second unit, Andrew Bynum for 46 games off of the bench, and Smush Parker, who aside from being on the Lakers with Kobe, no one really knows about. Kobe led this team to 45 wins and a playoff berth while Nash and the Suns underachieved once again and were eliminated in the Western Conference Finals. Again, Nash deserved consideration, but it was he who should have been fourth in the conversation and Kobe raising his 2nd MVP above his head.
1. Bill Russell Over Wilt Chamberlain (1961-62 Season)
Bill Russell Stats: 18.9 PPG, 23.6 RPG, 4.5 APG, 60-20 Record
Wilt Chamberlain Stats: 50.4 PPG, 25.7 RPG, 2.4 APG, 49-31 Record
The 1961-62 season from Wilt Chamberlain is yet another stat in his career that you take a look at and exclaim “There is no way this is real!”. Chamberlain led the NBA in scoring and rebounding by a country mile with 50.4 PPG and 25.7 RPG. No one has ever come close to his 1962 PPG total and his 25.7 RPG total ranks 3rd all-time right behind his 1960 and 1961 seasons. How does a man who puts up this historical season not take home the MVP award? I’ll tell you.
Back in 1962, the MVP was still decided by a league-wide players' vote. Who better to vote for the Most Valuable Player in the league than the guys playing the game, right? Well, the league kept no track of defensive statistics in this era, but the players knew who they feared the most on that end of the ball. It was the Boston Celtics’ big man in the middle, Bill Russell. His defensive ability and incredible rebounding were the best amongst the best during the 1960s and it proved true to the tune of 9 NBA championships in the decade. Russell led his Celtics to 62 wins and a championship in 1962 while Wilt and the Warriors won just 49 games and lost to Russell’s Celtics in the Eastern Conference Finals. Wilt was as spectacular as it possibly gets in 1962, but his peers valued what Russell brought to the table just a little bit more. Still, no one would have complained if the award went Chamberlain’s way that year.