Besides fan voting leading to some ridiculous All-Star appearances throughout the years, the media hasn’t exactly been perfect with their award voting either.
From players winning MVP without making 1st Team All-NBA that same season to Defensive Players of the Years being 2nd Team All-Defense Team members, there have been some truly head-scratching moments in NBA awards history, sometimes caused by the media deciding some awards, coaches deciding others and players deciding still others.
Below, check out 12 times NBA awards were questionable, strange or downright ludicrous.
Bill Russell having more league MVP awards than 1st Team All-NBA selections
Everyone knows about Bill Russell and his record 11 NBA championships as a player, but what fewer know is that Russell owns an interesting career distinction: He had more league MVP awards than 1st Team All-NBA appearances.
In his 13-year career with the Boston Celtics, Russell was named league MVP five times: in 1958, 1961, 1962, 1963 and 1965. However, he was named the 1st Team All-NBA center just three times, in 1959, 1963 and 1965.
In 1957-58, Russell, the league MVP, made just the 2nd Team All-NBA, as voters made Bob Pettit, a legend in his own right, the 1st Team All-NBA center. Pettit finished fourth in MVP voting that season.
Meanwhile, in in 1960-61, another year Russell was named MVP, he was the 2nd Team All-NBA center while his chief rival of the time, Wilt Chamberlain made 1st Team All-NBA. Chamberlain, like Pettit, finished fourth in MVP voting that year.
Why did that happen? Well, until 1979-80 MVP was decided by a vote of players while All-NBA teams have always been selected by the media. Differences in opinion between those who cover the sport and those who actually play it and experience things first-hand are bound to happen.
LeBron James losing MVP in 2010-11 to Derrick Rose
The reasoning was pretty obvious, as not only were fans upset by LeBron James’ decision to form a super team along with Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh in Miami, but the media weren’t thrilled with the move, either.
Derrick Rose also deserves credit, as he unexpectedly led the Chicago Bulls to a 62-20 campaign, the best record in the league that season and a first-place finish in the Eastern Conference by posting averages of 25.0 points, 4.1 rebounds and 7.7 assists per game.
At the time, the decision might have been somewhat defensible though looking back, it might be one of the worst MVP calls in NBA history. James was far and away the best player in the world at that time and himself had a huge season, slashing a 26.7/7.5/7.0 stat line to go with 1.6 steals and 51.0 percent shooting from the floor.
James ranked first in the league that year in VORP (+7.8) while Rose ranked third (+6.7); James was first in BPM (+8.1) while Rose was third (+6.8); and James was first in WS/48 (0.244) to Rose’s 10th-place finish in the metric (0.208).
No taking away from Rose, he was fantastic in 2010-11.
But that was peak James, arguably the greatest player ever, firing on all cylinders. He was the rightful MVP that season.
Michael Jordan only winning five MVPs
A player can’t just win MVP every year.
An example of that is regarding His Airness himself, Jordan.
Afterward, despite being at the absolute peak of arguably the greatest career the NBA has ever seen, Jordan still lost MVP in 1992-93 to Charles Barkley and in 1996-97 to Karl Malone.
In 1992-93, Jordan a league-leading 32.6 points and 2.8 steals per game while chipping in 6.7 rebounds and 5.5 assists on 49.5 percent shooting from the floor. He also led the NBA in VORP (Barkley finished fourth), BPM (Barkley finished second) and WS/48 (Barkley finished second).
Maybe the logic was that the Bulls struggled a bit that regular season coming off of back-to-back titles – and by struggled we mean they merely went 57-25 – so it would be a good time to give MVP to someone else.
In fairness, Barkley was spectacular that year, putting up 25.6 points, 12.2 rebounds and 5.1 assists while leading the Phoenix Suns to a 62-20 regular season, but there’s no doubt who the best player in the league was that year, as was proven in the 1993 Finals when Jordan led the Bulls to their third straight championship… which came against Barkley and Co.
The story was quite similar in 1996-97, with Jordan leading the league in points at 29.6 to go with 4.5 rebounds, 5.9 assists and 1.7 steals while likewise again leading the NBA in VORP (Malone finished third), BPM (Malone finished second) and WS/48 (Malone finished second).
The in-season wins argument doesn’t apply here as well, though, as Jordan’s Bulls went 69-13 while Malone’s Jazz went 64-18, though the Mailman did have a fantastic season, putting up 27.4 points, 9.9 rebounds and 4.5 assists.
Still, as was the case in 1992-93, there was one clear best player in the world at that time in Jordan, and he once again proved in that year’s Finals, guiding the Bulls to a championship over Malone and the Jazz.
Jordan made up for losing out on those two MVP awards by taking home Finals MVP instead.
We could go on and on, but you get the picture. Jordan had a strong argument to win league MVP every year besides his first two, his baseball comeback season and his Washington Wizards tenure.
Pat Riley landing LeBron James, Chris Bosh, Mike Miller, etc and not unanimously winning Executive of the Year
Sticking to the Miami theme for the moment, in 2011, Pat Riley orchestrated the moves to land James and Chris Bosh, to re-sign Dwyane Wade, the best player in the franchise’s history while still managing to bring in bench help in the form of the top shooter on the market, Mike Miller.
So clearly, he was the unanimous Executive of the Year that year… right?
You’d think so, but he actually had to share the award that year with Gar Forman, whose biggest move as shot-caller for the Bulls at the time was to sign Carlos Boozer to a five-year, $80 million deal.
Nonetheless, considering it’s the league’s other executives who vote for this award, it’s pretty obvious some hurt feelings were involved in the voting process.
Dave Cowens winning league MVP in 1972-73 while failing to make 1st Team All-NBA
Hall-of-Fame big man Dave Cowens was a great player in his heyday, a bundle of energy who would put his body on the line to make winning plays, one who was a monster rebounder who could finish down low with a mix of post moves and putbacks, and who could create players for others.
But his MVP selection in 1972-73 was a bit of a surprising one, with some considering it one of the most questionable in league history.
Who made it over Cowens at center for 1st Team All-NBA in 1972-73?
Some big man for the Milwaukee Bucks named Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, the player who probably deserved MVP that season after he put up 30.2 points, 16.2 rebounds and 5.0 assists while leading his team to 60 regular-season wins.
Cowens had a great year in his own right, putting up 20.5 points, 16.2 boards and 4.1 dimes while leading the Boston Celtics to 68 regular-season wins, but there’s no question who was better between he and Abdul-Jabbar.
Voter fatigue might have been the issue here, as Abdul-Jabbar had won MVP the two seasons before that and would win it again the season after (and three more times in his illustrious career). Plus, as we mentioned in the Russell section, in those days, fellow players voted for MVP while the media handled All-NBA teams, so it would appear Cowens did enough to earn the respect of his peers that season.
Tim Duncan never winning Defensive Player of the Year
The Big Fundamental Tim Duncan may be best remembered for his face-up game, his ability to finish with either hand in the post and his patented bank shot.
However, he was also arguably the best big man defender of his era, averaging at least 2.0 nightly blocks an astounding 12 times in his career and making eight All-Defensive 1st Teams.
From 1998-99 through 2001-02, four of the times Duncan made 1st Team All-Defense, the San Antonio Spurs were either first or second league-wide in defensive rating, making it surprising he didn’t take home more Defensive Player of the Year in any of those seasons.
Duncan never even finished second in voting for the award.
The closest Duncan came to winning Defensive Player of the Year was in 2000-01 and 2006-07, both times finishing third, the first campaign finishing behind Dikembe Mutombo and Kevin Garnett and the latter campaign, behind Marcus Camby and, ironically enough, his own teammate, Bruce Bowen.
Jerry Sloan never winning Coach of the Year
Everyone knows Jerry Sloan is one of the greatest NBA head coaches of all time. With 1,221 career wins as the head coach of the Chicago Bulls and, more notably, the Utah Jazz, Sloans ranks fourth all-time in wins by a head coach, trailing just Gregg Popovich, Don Nelson and Lenny Wilkens.
He also led Utah to back-to-back Finals appearances in 1996-97 and 1997-98, coming with two games each time of winning a championship.
And yet, Sloan somehow never won Coach of the Year throughout his tenure with Utah. For comparison’s sake, Popovich won it three times, Nelson won it three times and Wilkens won it once.
The year that the award probably should have gone to Sloan was in 1997-98, with the Jazz coming off of a Finals appearance, Utah still bounced back to win 62 games in the regular season, which was tied for the most of any team that year.
The award instead went to Larry Bird that season.
Wilt Chamberlain averaging 50 points and not winning MVP
One of the most untouchable NBA records of all time occurred in 1961-62 when Wilt Chamberlain averaged an unfathomable 50.4 points per game while playing in 80 games that season and leading the league in nightly minutes at 48.5 per contest.
For good measure, Chamberlain also led the league in rebound average that year at 25.7.
(By the way, second, third and fourth place for highest points per game in a season is also Chamberlain. At a distant fifth is Michael Jordan at 37.1 points per game. Just a fun FYI there.)
We make a big deal these days when a player goes off on any given night for 50. Chamberlain put that up per game, including outings where he scored 100, 78, 73, 67, 67, 65, 65, 62, 62, 62, three more games with 60 and two more with 60.
Hard to believe.
And yet, Chamberlain’s peers still opted to go with Russell as MVP that year, likely due to his Celtics going 60-20 that season versus Russell’s Philadelphia Warriors going 49-31. Perhaps fellow players thought Chamberlain was stat-padding when he could have done more to help his team win, which Russell did with his team-first, defensive brand of basketball.
Still, Chamberlain made 1st Team All-NBA that year over Russell, making the decision to not name him league MVP on a season where he averaged over 50 points look pretty silly in hindsight.
Kobe Bryant having the most 1st Team All-Defenses ever
This isn’t meant as a slight to the late, great Kobe Bryant whatsoever. We ranked him as the eighth greatest player ever in our HoopsHype75 list, for goodness sake.
But for him to be tied at No. 1 all-time in 1st Team All-Defenses along with Jordan, Garnett and Gary Payton with nine appearances, and second all-time in overall All-Defensive teams is questionable, to say the least.
That’s not to say Bryant wasn’t an excellent defender when locked in, but for someone who had to carry as much of an offensive load as he did, it was impossible for him to make the nightly defensive impact that he had on offense.
Even his steals numbers, which can sometimes be inflated by guards who gamble or gambled a lot, weren’t all that great, as Bryant merely averaged 1.4 takeaways nightly for his career.
When giving full effort, Bryant was among the best perimeter defensive stoppers in the league. It just didn’t happen enough for him to have made 12 All-Defensive Teams in his career, in our opinion.
Andre Iguodala winning Finals MVP over Stephen Curry (and LeBron)
Literally, the only thing missing to complete from Stephen Curry’s legacy is a Finals MVP award, which we – and most who watch basketball with an impartial eye – believe he should have by now for his 2015 Finals contributions.
If you recall, that was the championship series that the Golden State Warriors, led by Curry, defeated James’ Cleveland Cavaliers in six games with Finals MVP going to Andre Iguodala.
The reason the media made that decision, besides wanting to get cute with their vote?
Because Iguodala, on top of averaging 16.3 points, 5.8 rebounds and 4.0 assists, did a halfway decent job of slowing down James, the best player in the world at the time. It speaks to James’ greatness that Iguodala slowing him down entailed the four-time league MVP still averaging 35.8 points, 13.3 rebounds and 8.8 assists in that series.
Heck, James would have made a more worthy Finals MVP that year, even in defeat, than Iguodala.
Nonetheless, Curry in that Finals series put up 26.0 points, 5.2 rebounds, 6.3 rebounds and 1.8 steals. If the media was set on giving the award that year to a player on the winning team, it should have been Curry, not Iguodala.
Centers making All-NBA 1st Team just because you have to put one in there
In All-NBA voting, the lack of positional flexibility has made for some awkward choices in the past, particularly in recent history at the center position.
Although the position has seen a major resurgence in recent years, prior to that, the NBA center was going through some dark times. Take 2015-16 as an example, when DeAndre Jordan earned the first and only All-NBA 1st Team honor of his career, simply because the center position was so weak that season. He averaged 12.6 points that year, by the way.
What’s more, over the last couple of seasons, the lack of positional flexibility continues to be an issue, but in the opposite direction. Both this season and last, arguably the two top MVP candidates have been Nikola Jokic and Joel Embiid, yet one of them is going to miss out on 1st Team All-NBA this year because they’re both clearly centers. Last season, it was Embiid who got the short end of the stick.
Fix those archaic positional methods for award voting, NBA! Especially if contract bonuses can be tied to end-of-season awards.
Marc Gasol winning Defensive Player of the Year but not making 1st Team All-Defense
We wrap things up with the big Spaniard and Memphis Grizzlies legend Marc Gasol being slighted in 2012-13.
That was the year that Gasol was named Defensive Player of the Year after a season that saw him average 1.7 blocks and 1.0 steals while anchoring a Memphis defense that finished No. 2 that year in defensive rating at 99.1 points allowed per 100 possessions.
What other honor did Gasol receive that year?
He was named to the All-Defensive… 2nd Team.
Yes, you read that correctly: The Defensive Player of the Year was not a 1st Team All-Defense member. That probably has to do with the fact that head coaches voted for Defensive Player of the Year while media did All-Defensive teams, but still, it’s quite the strange occurrence for someone considered the most impactful defender in the league to not make 1st Team All-Defense.
Not only that, but there were three (3!) big men chosen over him for 1st Team All-Defense that year in Serge Ibaka, Tyson Chandler and Joakim Noah.
All three of those players were excellent defenders in their primes and specifically that season, but if the media really thought all three were more worthy of 1st Team All-Defense than Gasol, then one of them should have been Defensive Player of the Year over him. But that just goes to show how differently the media and head coaches see the game.