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The Definition of “Valuable” In This Year’s NBA MVP Race

Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

And it’s inextricably relationship with “history.”

The announcement of the NBA MVP award was unsurprising in the sense that we all more or less knew that Russell Westbrook would be its winner. 

But what came as a shock was the size of his victory. The triple double king garnered 69 first place votes while runner-up James Harden drew 22 and third place vote-getter Kawhi Leonard earned only nine. 

What was marked all season as a historically tight race turned into a landslide decision. The difference between the top three finishers should not, according to statistics, efficiency, and the eye test, have been so wide, as each candidate posed legitimate and compelling cases for the league’s top individual award.

So why was it so lopsided?

The answer lies within the ever-mercurial meaning of the word “valuable.” 

This year, it seems to have taken on the denotation of “historic,” as Westbrook’s triple double frenzy was not only unparalleled, but thought to be an impossible feat in the modern NBA

Yet I come back to the definition of “valuable.”

How “valuable” is history within this conversation? How does it stack up against efficiency with its ever-growing legion of followers? Where is its place amongst well-roundedness?

The polished novelty and romanticized allure of record chasing is almost medieval in its praise of “the hero’s quest.” It is as accessible and long-standing a narrative as there ever has been, and Westbrook filled the hero’s role as if he were on a Hollywood movie set instead of a 94-foot hardwood floor every night.

History is history because of its lasting impact or its seemingly unassailable magnitude or for a Herculean effort.

Westbrook embodied those traits. No, he was not more efficient than Harden or Leonard or Steph Curry or LeBron James. Nor was he more well-rounded than Leonard or James (or for that matter his teammate-turned-nemesis Kevin Durant).

But efficiency and well-roundedness are commonplace enough in today’s game. History, especially on such a grand scale, is less so, and that’s what makes it — and him — all the more appealing.

Russell Westbrook was historic this season. That gave him an edge in a competitive race. We like to see history reflect great victors. And now Russell Westbrook has triumphantly ended his quest.

Edited by Joe Sparacio.

How many MVP awards did Kobe Bryant win in his career?
Created 6/27/17
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