In this fiercely contested NBA season, more than a half-dozen teams have emerged as serious contenders for the championship.
But when it comes to the Most Valuable Player race, there’s only one clear choice: LeBron James.
Despite all the verbal abuse James received after his nationally televised announcement that he was “taking his talents to South Beach” and leaving the Cleveland Cavaliers, James is proving in his first season with the Miami Heat that he’s still the league’s MVP.
Just look at the effect LBJ has had on the team he joined, and the team he left behind.
With James excelling in every phase of the game, the Heat have won six in a row. He averaged an NBA-best 30.6 points a game in January, and he continued the hot streak in February by dropping 51 points on the Orlando Magic in a Feb. 3 victory.
While James doesn’t lead the NBA in any statistical category, the 6-foot-8 superstar forward is third in scoring (26.1 points), 13th in assists (7.3), and 27th in rebounds (7.2).
There is no more versatile player in the league than LBJ. His skills as a ball handler, passer, rebounder, and defender allow him to make his teammates better at both ends of the court.
It took a month for James to mesh with his new all-star teammates Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh. The Heat were only 9–8 after 17 games. Critics and haters were gleeful.
But since that mediocre start, the team has won 28 of 34 games. A victory tonight over the Indiana Pacers would leave the Heat only a half-game behind the Boston Celtics for best record in the Eastern Conference.
An NBA championship eluded James for seven years in Cleveland because of a weak supporting cast. But he’ll eventually win one in Miami. The only question is when.
As for the Cavaliers—better known these days as the “Cadavers”—they lost an NBA-record 25th game in a row last night, falling 99–96 to the Dallas Mavericks.
Antawn Jamison, J.J. Hickson, Anthony Parker, and Daniel Gibson still play for the Cavaliers. With James around last year to camouflage their weaknesses, the team finished with a league-best record of 61–21.
Without James, the Cavaliers are a league-worst 8–44.
When LBJ is named NBA MVP for 2010–2011, he’ll join Hall of Famers Bill Russell (1960–1963), Wilt Chamberlain (1965–1968), and Larry Bird (1983–1986) as the only players to win the award three straight years.
What about Michael Jordan, the legend to whom James is frequently compared? He won five NBA MVP awards, but never more than two in a row.
With the playoffs still two months away, you could have a pretty good argument over who’s going to win the NBA championship. Heat? Celtics? Magic? Mavericks? Lakers? Spurs? Bulls? Thunder?
But this year, there’s really no doubt that James is the NBA’s MVP.
Image: Hans Deryk / Reuters