TOE TO TOE: Hodes
We all know the best player in the NBA. It is, and has been for several years now, Kobe Bryant. Not even thirty, Kobe has already accomplished almost everything an athlete could dream of, but there has been one glaring hole in his resume: a league MVP. I'm not one to put too much stock in MVP awards, but it is a travesty that the best player in the world has not been deemed the most valuable player -- until now.
With reports surfacing that Kobe Bryant will be the 2008 NBA MVP, all I can say is, it's about time. But not everyone agrees. The past season, certainly a reinvigorating one for the NBA, has been marked by a stirring MVP debate. Several players could make a case for the honor, particularly Kevin Garnett, LeBron James, Chris Paul, and Kobe. Let's whittle down our contenders, shall we? KG and LBJ, nice acronyms, but thanks for coming. You are both leaders of inferior Eastern Conference teams. Congratulations. You've both had great seasons, and your teams love you, but we are going to have to pass. Sorry.
Now, that was easy, but the rest of the debate is a bit more fickle. Both Paul and Kobe have put up stellar numbers, leading their teams to the top two slots in the West. This past season has been a true coming out party for the Hornets' standout. He's transformed the team into a true contender, and for that he should be lauded. Only he is not your MVP.
The Most Valuable Player should be awarded to the player that means the most to the team that could not have achieved nearly as much if he had been replaced by an average player at that position. And as important as CP3 is to the Hornets, no player means more to his team than Kobe. Look beyond Kobe's stellar stats, and you'll see a player who has finally come into his own and is now capable of leading a team to the promised land without Shaq.
The Lakers have not had it easy this season, despite the steal they got from Memphis. The addition of Pau Gasol helped, but that's not the story of the Lakers' season. This was a team in disarray prior to the season. Kobe had one foot out the door. And now? It seems pretty clear that Kobe will finish his career in the purple and gold. The Lakers, after a mediocre first month, finished at 48-16 after December 4. Through it all, they learned to play as a team, not just Kobe's team. Andrew Bynum turned into a real force, only to succumb to injury. Throw in the acquisition of Gasol, and you've got a team whose season doesn't exactly shout stability -- unless you count Mr. Bryant.
More than any other sport, basketball demands stability. It takes time for teams to learn a style of basketball. Case in point, the Suns' and Mavs' quick exits from the playoffs. You can't expect to dramatically alter your roster in season and contend for the title. Yet that's precisely what has happened to the Lakers. They have persevered thanks to Kobe and for this reason above all others, Kobe Bryant will add his first Maurice Podoloff Trophy to his stable.
The critics will say Kobe is being handed a career achievement award instead of actually meriting the MVP. Well, to borrow a phrase from our friends across the pond, that's just rubbish.
We take Kobe's greatness for granted. We do so because he's not the squeaky clean superstar. And in that, we're wrong. Kobe deserves this award -- don't let your prior misconceptions blind you to this fact.