How is the NBA MVP Chosen?

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Whether you’re looking at the Steve-Nash-over-Shaquille-O’Neal MVP race at the end of the 2004-05 season, or the one where Karl Malone barely edged out Michael Jordan in the 1996-97 season, there’s almost always some sort of debate over who should win the NBA Most Valuable Player (MVP) Award.

So, how is MVP decided in the NBA? We’ve gathered some information for you on who gets to vote for these awards and who gets to contend for it. Hopefully, we’ll all get a better understanding on how the MVP is chosen so we’re not all confused during the ceremony.

What is the NBA MVP Award?What is the NBA MVP Award?

At its core, the NBA MVP is about impact. It isn’t always about who scored the most points or who had the most rebounds. It’s about the player who left an indelible mark on the season. This could mean dragging a mediocre team into playoff contention, or it could mean being the best player on the best team. Would the Denver Nuggets have reached the NBA Playoffs in 2020 without the colossal performance from Nikola Jokic? Would the Golden State Warriors have become a dynastic force without the exceptional wizardry of Steph Curry?

Moreover, the NBA MVP Award is about inspiration and influence. These MVPs aren’t just players — they become legends, role models, and the inspiration for the next generation of ballers. Remember when you attempted that ‘fadeaway’ in the backyard, imagining Kobe Bryant? Or tried that skyhook, paying homage to Kareem Abdul-Jabbar? That’s the stuff of MVPs!

NBA MVP Award History and How It StartedNBA MVP Award History and How It Started

The NBA MVP Award has been a part of the NBA’s history since the 1955-56 season. It established a formal system to recognize the outstanding performers who made significant contributions during the regular season. Back then, the league were quite different from what it is today, with a smaller number of teams and different playing styles. However, even as the league naturally evolved through the years, the MVP award has been a constant, highlighting the most valuable talent.

In those days, players voted on who they felt was the league MVP based on their on-court experience. This was a good way to get a consensus among players, but it also led to some pretty strange results. In the early years of the award’s existence, you could have an MVP who wasn’t even in contention for any other individual awards (like Bill Walton in 1978).

How are the NBA MVP Candidates SelectedHow are the NBA MVP Candidates Selected?

Since it’s difficult to judge impact and influence based on statistical and quantifiable methods, the NBA’s method on selecting MVP candidates is through democratic balloting.

A panel of 100 pre-selected individuals are tasked with selecting five players they believe have truly shined that season. They rank their top choices from one to five, and the players are awarded points accordingly: 10 points for first place, 7 for second, 5 for third, 3 for fourth, and 1 for fifth.

The only stipulation is that voters choose depending on who they think offers the most value. Each voter has their flavor when it comes to defining ‘value’. Some vote purely based on stats, while others might consider the player’s impact on the team’s winning percentage. Some might factor in the player’s worth to the team – would the team be lost without them? Others consider the player’s leadership and their aptitude in making those around them better.

Remember the 2004-05 MVP race between Shaquille O’Neal and Steve Nash mentioned earlier?

Steve Nash was on his first season back as a Phoenix Suns veteran guard, after spending the first two years of his professional career there before being traded. During the season, he and new head coach Mike D’Antoni helped transform the team into a 62-20 record after a dismal 29-53 record just the season before. During the season, he averaged 15.5 points and a league-leading 11.5 assists.

In contrast, Shaquille O’Neal, one of the greatest centers the NBA has ever seen, was on the first playing year after getting traded by the Lakers. In a way, he was on a mission to prove the Lakers wrong that season, which paved the way to a great statistical year for him. He averaged 22.9 points and 10.4 rebounds on the Heat team he led with a young Dwayne Wade.

In the end, Steve Nash emerged as the winner, despite a less impressive statistical performance. Primarily, voters saw the huge turnaround in the Sun’s win-loss record as a direct effect of Nash’s arrival, while Shaquille was a reinforcement to a team that already made an impressive playoff run just a year prior.

Who Votes for the NBA MVP AwardWho Votes for the NBA MVP Award?

You would think the players themselves, or maybe the coaches, might be best placed to judge the MVP, right? Initially, this was the case as from 1955-1980, players were the ones with the power of the MVP vote.

However, in the 1981-1982 season, league leadership decided to give the vote to the journalists for their balanced perspective. Journalists track every dribble, every dunk, and every defensive move, spinning their observations into stories detailing the ins and outs of the game. This gives them unrivaled insight into the player performance that goes far beyond what stats can show. It’s about the narrative, the influence, the X-factor – it’s about the read between the lines’ stuff.

This powerful group is made up of 100 members, representing the United States, Canada, and a couple of other basketball-crazy countries across the world. The league itself chooses these journalists, who provide their seasoned insights and expertise to select the player with the most significant impact that season.

How Many NBA Players Have Won an MVPHow Many NBA Players Have Won an MVP?

Since the inception of the NBA MVP award in the 1955-56 season, there have been quite a number of MVPs that have come through the league. But out of over six decades, there’s only been a total of 34 different players to have had the honor of receiving this prestigious award.

15 NBA Players Who Won Multiple MVPs15 NBA Players Who Won Multiple MVPs

There’s little doubt about the impact of all MVP awardees. In a way, each one of them influenced the game in one way or another. Even the one-time winners, such as Derrick Rose, Allen Iverson, Kevin Garnett and the others have made quite a lasting impression that we still remember those MVP seasons for their body of work across those 82 games.

However, there are quite a few players who’ve been able to sustain multiple MVP-winning seasons marking their names in history books. Here are 15 NBA players who won multiple MVP awards:

1. Michael Jordan (5)

Widely considered the best player to ever lace up his basketball shoes, Jordan’s five MVPs seem more like an inevitability rather than an honor.

2. Bill Russell (5)

Bill Russell is tied with Jordan on MVP trophies but is so much farther away in terms of the number of championships won, with 11. While he wasn’t much of a scoring juggernaut like his rival Wilt Chamberlain, his leadership ability and defensive prowess was quite evident as he won the MVP five times in his career, with an impressive three-year streak from 1960-63.

3. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (6)

Jabbar is the blueprint for a perfect NBA center with his inside presence felt on both the defensive and offensive ends of the floor.

4. Magic Johnson (3)

While Kareem was the clear leader of the Lakers in the 80s, it was Magic Johnson that brought showmanship to the “Showtime” Lakers.

5. Bob Pettit (2)

The first-ever MVP Award recipient and one of the consistent players of his generation. He was an excellent athlete for his size, especially for the 50s NBA.

6. LeBron James (4)

LeBron is one of the most prolific talents ever to come to the NBA. He’s already passed Kareem Abdul-Jabbar in scoring, number four in assists, number three in minutes played, number eight in steals, and a bunch of other stats in the all-time leaders list. What makes him even more impressive is that he’s always been in the MVP conversation for the entirety of his more two-decades-long career while winning four of them in the process.

7. Wilt Chamberlain (4)

When it comes to Wilt ‘The Stilt’ Chamberlain, his 100-point performance in a single game is probably the first thing that pops to mind. However, it’s not just his scoring that made him the most dominant player in NBA history. He was also an excellent leader and has, therefore, won four MVP trophies with an impressive run in the late 60s, winning it three consecutive times from 1966-68.

8. Larry Bird (3)

People called him “Larry Legend”, and it was a name befitting his aura on the court. His versatile scoring ability and shot-making stroke fear into his opponents and his trash-talking and mind games often resulted in wins for his Boston Celtics in the 80s. He’s also part of the exclusive trio that won the MVP for three consecutive years.

9. Karl Malone (2)

Karl Malone is an excellent scoring forward who, unfortunately, played in a time when Michael Jordan was busy winning championship rings. So, even with an all-time great point guard by his side, Malone couldn’t snag even one championship over the course of his 18-year career. But that doesn’t diminish his prowess as a basketball player, as evidenced by the two MVPs he won against Jordan.

10. Tim Duncan (2)

The “Big Fundamental”, as he was nicknamed, had an inside presence so intimidating that it was enough to translate into wins with an impressive 1001-391 win-loss record. To add to his winning legacy, he’s also a part of the exclusive list of players who’ve never missed a playoff berth.

11. Nikola Jokic (2)

With an unstoppable combo of deceptive quickness, playmaking, and shot-making built into a 7’0” frame, Nikola Jokic is one of the most well-rounded offensive big men to ever grace the NBA courts. So, even when defenses find a way to stop him from scoring, he’d be able to create opportunities for his teammates relatively easily, making his Denver Nuggets teammates so much better.

12. Giannis Antetokounmpo (2)

An unlikely MVP winner who epitomized the value of hard work and loyalty, Giannis Antetokounmpo is a paint beast who moves more like 7’0″ LeBron James in his prime. Rather than being known as a post-up center, Giannis attacks the rim on a straight-line drive to the basket. This brute-force strategy has brought him two MVPs.

13. Steve Nash (2)

Steve Nash is a cerebral player who influenced games with his playmaking rather than his scoring. He had unparalleled ball handling and was masterful with his ability to read the floor. This helped him make the right play every single time, contributing to all of his team’s overall success. So, while he was never the highest-scoring player on his team, he was always the offensive catalyst that enabled a fast-paced and high-scoring system.

14. Stephen Curry (2)

One of Stephen Curry’s claims of greatness is being the only player to ever become a unanimous MVP. Of course, this is behind all of his on-court achievements, such as becoming the league’s top player when it comes to all-time three-point makes.

15. Moses Malone (3)

As an offensive rebound specialist, Moses Malone knew how to turn the tide of the game with just one rebound. And teams knew this, so Malone was always a sought-after player in the NBA, so much so that he’s played for ten different teams throughout his professional career including the ABA and the NBA. But, aside from rebounding, he was also an excellent inside scorer who terrorized paint defenders constantly.

Wrapping Things Up: How is the NBA MVP Chosen?

The NBA MVP Award is decided through a vote by some of the world’s most experienced sports journalists. This is primarily because of their understanding of the history and context behind each NBA season and behind each NBA game. And despite not necessarily having experience in playing professional basketball, they do have enough knowledge of the game that gives them credibility to assess player performance and impact.

Winning the award, therefore, is not as easy as gunning for the season’s scoring, rebounding, and assist records. It’s more about making a direct impact on winning games and surviving the grueling season.

We hope you enjoyed this post! If you did, be sure to check out our other basketball FAQ articles here.

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Hoops Addict

Hoops Addict was created to help basketball fans of all ages learn more about the sport and find the best basketball gear to improve their ability to hoop. He has been a huge basketball fan for decades, watching thousands of basketball games through the years to learn the ins and outs of the game.

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