Saturday, March 7, 2009

Race to the MVP


Gary Dineen, Stephen Dunn, Fernando Medina & Rocky Widner/NBAE via Getty Images

After a week out of the top spot, LeBron James has retaken the No. 1 position in the Race to the MVP. It's almost as if LeBron left his seat just before the end of the third quarter to get some food before the concession stand closed, only to return to his seat to find it occupied by Kobe Bryant.

How awkward.

And it may get even more uncomfortable to move these two back and forth as the season heads toward the April 15 finish line. But as we noted in last week's column, that's how close the race has become between LeBron and Kobe. Also, if you read the R2MVP Daily, where we talk about individual performances, you'll have noticed we've come to realize that Dwyane Wade is playing some of the best basketball of his career, and thus some of the best basketball in the NBA right now.

Should he move into the top two at some point? How would that upset the natural order we've carved out for ourselves below?

As with everything in the Race to the MVP, a player's beauty is in the eye of the smitten fan. For some, LeBron is the NBA's future. For others, Kobe is the epitome of passion and grace, and as a player, has no flaw. Then there are those who see Wade as a great story, a player who has returned from injuries stronger and more determined.

Or as some of our more dedicated fans e-mail: "Why can't you appreciate LeBron's or Kobe's or Dwyane's attributes? Why don't you like him?"

I'd like to think it's always been about performance when I rank the players. Of course, there is something in each of the players in the top 10 that draws out the fan in me.

How can one not be amazed by LeBron's rush to the rim late in the fourth quarter against the Heat? He threw it down so hard that veteran reporters who have covered James for nearly a decade say that's the hardest they've ever seen him dunk.

How can one not be amazed by Kobe's pursuit of perfection and the level of dedication he demands from his teammates? And in that pursuit, how his teammates raise their game to meet his? You may not like his personality -- and some don't -- but you must respect his will to win.

You also must respect that Kobe's game may be the most complete of any player in the top 10. He can go left, he can go right, he can post up, he can shoot the fadeaway, he can shoot the three. He can score in traffic, he can handle in traffic, he's an excellent passer, he's an above average rebounder, he's a sick defender and he's growing into a leader. His desire to do everything -- because he can do everything -- used to be his fatal flaw. As a 13-year vet, has he learned that he doesn't need to do it all?

How can one not be amazed by Wade's ability to take a beating and yet still manage to carry a team on his back? Or that, at 27, he's improved his defense so much that he's now considered elite?

How can one not be amazed by Dwight Howard's strength or Chris Paul's speed and court vision? Or by Tim Duncan's consistency, Chauncey Billups' steady leadership, Brandon Roy's bright future or Yao Ming's soft touch?

As impossible as it may seem, we see the best in these guys and the best of these players because they are the best. So, is there any hate or dislike?

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