Podoloff’s Box Part II: The 1990’s



Without question the 90’s NBA MVP Award belonged to Michael Jordan. Out of a possible 10, he won 4. So dominant was his presence on and off the hardwood that even after playing only 17 games in 1995 he received 12 votes, placing him 11th in that year’s balloting. In 1990, 1993 and 1997 – each year other than the 1995 season in which he was eligible for the award — he finished in the top three. In what was the decade’s closest race, Karl Malone edged out Air by a mere 29 total points (11 first place) to take home the 1997 trophy. As payback, Jordan’s Bulls outwrestled Malone’s Jazz in six games en route to their second of three straight late-90s titles.

As much as Michael Jordan dominated the decade, he alone did not define it. The NBA in the ‘90s was led by a generation of stars who, remarkably enough, were all roughly the same age. Dream Teamers Charles Barkley, Michael Jordan, Patrick Ewing, Clyde Drexler, Karl Malone, John Stockton, and Chris Mullin were all born the same year—1963. Hakeem Olajuwon and Joe Dumars were also born in ‘63. Meanwhile Scottie Pippen and David Robinson were only two years younger while non-Dream Teamers Dominique Wilkins and Isiah Thomas only two years older. These players guided the consistent excellence that we came expect not just from teams like Boston and Los Angeles, but Utah, Houston, Detroit, San Antonio and, of course, Chicago—all of which remain contenders to this day in part because of their success in the 1990s. Year after year the teams that these signature stars played for stood at the top of the standings come season’s end, and quite often three or four them owned 60-win records while three or four more stood just below that threshold with 55 or 57 or even 59 wins.

Quick Key

The Contender: A player or players who legitimately vied for the award but fell short for some reason.

The Overlooked: A player or players who, for reasons beyond his control, never seems to get the credit or consideration his play warrants.

The John Shaft Award: The player who, that season, really didn’t get the credit they deserved. The player may not have deserved to win the MVP, but he deserved more recognition from the voting body.


Magic’s Defense

Despite the broad impact these stars would have on the game throughout the 90s, the decade still began where it left off: with Magic winning his third MVP overall and his second in a row. The story of that Lakers season, and the most compelling rationale for crowning Magic a second time in two years, was the retirement of Kareem Abdul-Jabaar at the end of the 1989 season. Arguably the greatest player the game had ever produced, Kareem retired as the all-time leading NBA scorer with 38,387 points. His list of accomplishments included six titles, six regular season MVP and two Finals MVP awards, fifteen NBA First or Second Teams, a record nineteen NBA All-Star selections, and a career average of 24.6 points, 11.2 rebounds, 3.6 assists and 2.6 blocks per game. Kareem’s last season, 88-89, the Lakers had gone 57-25. They’d waltzed through the playoffs undefeated until they ran into a freight train called the Detroit Pistons and got swept in four. Without Kareem in the line-up for the first time in 1989-90 the Lakers improved their regular season record to 63-19. Like Steve Nash in ‘06, Magic benefited in part by being regarded as the defending MVP who was forced to carry an even heavier load without his big man in the middle. Like Nash, the title had to be taken from Magic rather than given to someone else, and the only way that could happen was if someone thoroughly outplayed him and led their team to a better regular season record, a near impossible task considering the perception that the gap left behind by Kareem’s departure was unfillable. Hidden within that surface story, however, is the fact that Kareem only averaged 10 points and 4.5 rebounds during his final NBA season, and that, if anything, he slowed the team down. Hidden as well is the fact that the Western Conference added two god-awful expansion teams (Charlotte and Minnesota) in the off-season, thereby assuring any respectable inter-conference team at least six automatic wins.

But before casting judgment, one should look at Magic’s 1989-90 season. In February of 1990 he was named All-Star Game MVP. He was fourth in the league in free throws made, fifth in three-pointers made, seventh in free throw percentage, and second in assists per game. At the same time Magic was fourth in the league in turnovers. Magic fell in love with the three that season, shooting 276, placing him fifth in the entire league. A season earlier he hit 59 out of 188; the season before that, 11 out of 56. Overall his field goal percentage fell from a high of 56% in 1984 (50% in ’89) to 48% (and falling) in 1990. Statistically, 1990 actually represented the beginnings of a downward slide in both rebounds and assists for Magic, which leads one to wonder who really was the difference maker on that team.

The Contender

Charles Barkley actually received more first place votes in 1990 (38 to 27) than Magic Johnson. Magic nudged Barkley out on the overall voting 636 to 614. Meanwhile, Michael Jordan might’ve played the Ralph Nader role, stealing 21 first place votes of his own (571 overall), many of which might’ve gone to Barkley. 1990 was a breakthrough season for Sir Charles. The addition of Rick Mahorn improved the team. After finishing 46-36 in 1989, Philadelphia added a recently waived (salary cap) former Bad Boy Rick Mahorn to its frontline and went 53-29, winning the Atlantic Division. Statistically, Barkley had slightly better seasons in both ‘88 and ‘89, but his highest MVP ranking was fourth. Along with the team success of 1990, Barkley finished second in field percentage (60%), fifth in free throws, second in offensive rebounds to Moses Malone, and third in overall rebounds.

The Overlooked

As for Jordan, his Bulls improve from 47-35 in 1989 and a fifth-place finish in the Central (sixth seed in playoffs) to 55-27 in 1990 and second-place finish in the Central (second seed in the playoffs).

A story that was eerily ignored at this moment of transition was Larry Bird’s return to Boston. After playing only 6 games in 1989, Bird returns to play 72 in 1990. He averages 24.3 points, 7.5. assists and 9.4 rebounds. As a team the Celtics improve from 42-40 to 52-30. For his yeoman efforts (Dirk’s ‘06-‘07: 24.6 , 3.4, 8.9) Bird ties Buck Williams for 5 total votes.

The John Shaft Award

For the year’s most egregious oversight one has to go to the Motor City. After leading his team to the NBA title in 1989 and leading them to a 59-23 record in a hotly contested Central Division that included five playoff teams, Isiah Thomas (and Joe Dumars) received a total of one vote. Isiah averaged 18.4 points, 3.8 rebounds and 9.4 assists for the defending champion. He was not selected to any of the three All-NBA teams. With nearly identical numbers (18.5, 3.1, 8.6) in 2005-06, Chauncey Billups finished fifth in MVP voting with 15 first place votes and 430 overall and made Second Team All-NBA.


Jordan in a Landslide

In retrospect Jordan’s 1988 MVP Award was something of an anomaly, a once-in-a -career achievement akin to Iverson’s MVP in 2001. Every so often the NBA deviates from the team-oriented bias implicit in the award and grants it to the player whose performance is so stunningly superior to everyone else’s that it must be acknowledged. At best the 1988 MVP was the capstone to a prolific individual season. Never again would Jordan have been able to win the award had he not exceeded his individual greatness with team success, particularly not after Magic’s back-to-back MVP’s. With the second-best record in the league (tops in the Eastern Conference), Jordan garnered 77 out of the possible 96 first-place votes. Magic placed second with 10 votes and David Robinson, Charles Barkley and Clyde Drexler received 6, 2, and 1 respectively.

The Contenders

A year before David Robinson’s arrival, San Antonio went 21-61. His rookie season the Spurs went 56-25 and won the Midwest Division. Robinson was named Third Team All-NBA. His second season the Spurs went 55-27 and again the Spurs won a division that included two other 50-win teams in Utah and Houston. If one is talking about turning a franchise around as a definitive mark of an MVP-type player, then Robinson probably should’ve gotten more votes than Magic Johnson in 1991. While no one will ever seriously impugn Magic Johnson’s MVP credibility in any given year, there is something to be said for the fact that he played alongside one of the best power forwards of the era in James Worthy. Worthy, unlike Stockton or even Pippen, never even got a single vote in MVP balloting. Kevin Mchale got votes routinely. Robert Parrish’s name popped up on the list from time to time. Worthy, meanwhile, is treated like an afterthought who happened to wind up in the Hall of Fame on his first available go-round. Go figure.

Barkley and Malone are quintessential 90’s-styled MVP candidates. Beginning with Bird in 1984, the MVP was routinely given to finesse players over power players. In ‘84 Bernard King takes second in voting. In ‘85, Magic takes second. In ’86, Dominique finishes behind Bird. In ‘87 Jordan and Bird follow Magic. In ‘88 Bird and Magic follow Jordan. In ‘89 Jordan follows Magic. By the 90’s, though, we see an infusion of power players at the top of the list. Robinson, Barkley and Malone all receive more votes than Clyde Drexler, whose Portland team had the best record in the NBA. In today’s NBA Drexler would’ve have likely bested everyone except for MJ simply because of his team’s regular season dominance.

The Overlooked

Besides Drexler, Bernard King’s season with the Bullets has to be the most overlooked as far as MVP balloting is concerned. King averaged 28.4, 5.0, 4.5 for one of the most dysfunctional teams the NBA has ever seen—i.e. John “Hot-Plate” Williams. In exchange for those efforts, King received a grand total of seven votes, two more than Kenny Smith and four less than Isiah Thomas who played 48 games that season and averaged a career-low in points. Oddly enough, Thomas received more votes that season than he did in the three previous seasons – two NBA titles and a third Finals appearance – combined!

The John Shaft Award

Not awarded this year.


Jordan in a Landslide Part II

As if the voting wasn’t lopsided enough in 1991, Jordan garners 80 of the possible 96 votes in 1992 en route to racking up 900 of a potential 960 overall points. A few noteworthy points nonetheless: In ’92 Jordan’s average drops by a point and a half, but his assists go up. Pippen raises his scoring between ‘91 and ‘92 by almost four points. He makes Second Team All-NBA and gets one first place MVP vote. Overall he finishes 9th in balloting, ahead of Barkley and Bird.

The Contender

In any other year Clyde Drexler wins this award hands down. Although the Trailblazers’ lost six more games in 1992 than they did in 1991, one should and indeed must keep in mind that the Pacific Division was the most difficult division in basketball that season. Six out of the seven teams went to the playoffs. The top three teams all had 50-win seasons. Portland seemed to learn the same lesson that Detroit learned in 2006—you don’t want to burn yourself out in the regular season. Drexler raised his scoring average by four points to 25 per game and averaged nearly 7 assists per game.

The Overlooked

Another interesting tidbit about the MVP voting in 1992. Utah wins the Midwest with 55 wins. Malone averages 28 and 12 and Stockton averages 16 and 13.7 and leads the league with 3 steals per game. Malone finishes fourth in voting while Stockton finishes tied with Barkley (who had his worst season as a Sixer and was on his way out) for 12th behind Mark Price, Dennis Rodman and Brad Daughtery. Meanwhile, San Antonio actually loses eight more games in 1992 than they did in 1991 and still Robinson gets more MVP votes that Malone. In Robinson’s defense, he averaged 4.5 blocks per game.

The John Shaft Award

Over the span of the 90’s no player was more maligned and underappreciated than Patrick Ewing. In ‘92 he averaged 24 and 11 plus 3 blocks per game. He was named Second Team All-Defensive and All-NBA, both behind David Robinson whose Spurs were less than spectacular all season. Ewing’s Knicks won the Atlantic Division. They won 51 games a season after winning just 39. The 12-game turnaround was only bested by Cleveland’s 24-game turnaround and Golden State’s 13-game turnaround. Patrick’s supporting cast was weaker than any other legitimate MVP candidate. John Starks was the team’s second leading score at 13.9 per game coming off the bench. Patrick received a total of 100 votes.


Lifetime Achievement Award #1 (or, let’s give it to someone other than MJ)

After being All-NBA seven years in a row, including four straight First Team appearances, Sir Charles finally gets his due. Phoenix goes 62-20. They make it all the way to the Finals, finally. Great. Phenomenal. We were all very happy for him. Now let’s look at the facts. The Barkley who wins the MVP Award is already on the decline. Only one other season in the remainder of his career would he play at least 70 games. Just as Magic fell in love with the 3-pointer as his body began to give way, Barkley began relying on the shot as well. In his last year in Philadelphia he took a total of 137 threes. In his first season in Phoenix he took 220, shooting a lowly 30% from deep. Barkley’s shooting percentage was the lowest in his career that season and would only continue plummeting from there on out. His offensive rebounding was down from a high of 5.1 per game in ‘89 to 3.1 in ‘93. His assists and defensive rebound numbers were up, however, which suggests the development of a more complete game.

The Contenders

Hakeem Olajuwon took second in MVP balloting with 22 first place votes and 647 overall votes. The Rockets won the Midwest with a 55-27 record. Jordan took third with 13 and 565. The Bulls were an uninspired 57-25. Patrick took fourth with 4 and 359. The Knicks went 60-22.

The Overlooked

Again, Patrick’s season was disregarded. The Knicks won 60 games, improving for the third straight year, and finishing with the second-best record in the NBA. Again, Patrick was relegated to Second Team All-NBA, this time behind Hakeem.

The John Shaft Award

If Jordan finishes third in the MVP balloting that means Scottie Pippen gets no love whatsoever. Karl Malone and John Stockton received votes. Mark Price and Brad Daughtery received votes. But Scottie, despite the Bulls owning the second best record in the East and the best record in the Central Division, got no MVP love. Pippen’s scoring numbers were down three points (note that Jordan’s increased by almost the exact amount Scottie’s decreased), but his all-around impact on the floor remained in tact. What both Scottie and MJ suffered from in 1993 was a case of unrealistic expectations. After going 67-15 the previous season, it was almost a disappointment to watch them plummet back down to an earthly 57-25. What must be remembered, however, is that the previous summer both Scottie and MJ went straight from the Finals to the Dream Team practices and on to
Barcelona. Can anyone say burnout?


Lifetime Achievement Award #2

With Jordan out of the way, the MVP race truly becomes a big man’s affair. Out of the top eight vote getters in 1994, six of them were power players whose numbers on paper looked simply monstrous. Hakeem bested division rival Robinson 66 to 24 in fist-place votes and 889 to 730 overall. Houston won its second straight divisional title over San Antonio and Utah. By ‘94 Hakeem had seven All-NBA selections, including four First Teams. He also had six All-Defensive team selections and one DPOY (another that season, as well as the Finals MVP). His time had come. Considering how things panned out for the Rockets that season no one will question his selection—no one except for me.

The Contenders

In five seasons David Robinson failed to carry the Spurs past the second round of the playoffs and yet he remained near the top of MVP balloting year in and year out. Meanwhile, Shaquille O’Neal’s Orlando Magic finished seven games behind Patrick Ewing’s Knicks and yet Shaq received three first-place votes (289 overall) to Ewing’s one (255 overall). Gary Payton and Shawn Kemp finish sixth and seventh (20 and 17 overall points) respectively after the Sonics complete a league-best 63-19 season, earning the first of four Pacific Division titles in the 1990’s.

The Overlooked

In nine seasons John Stockton missed a total of four games, all of them in the same season. He completes his seventh year consecutive year as the league’s assist leader and as one of the top four steal leaders in the league. Compiling a 53-29 record, Utah finishes third in what is arguably the premiere division in the NBA that season. In 2004-05 Steve Nash led Phoenix to a division title with an almost identical record of 54-28, had almost identical stats (15.5, 11.5) and was named league MVP. In 1994 Stockton received one vote for MVP.

The John Shaft Award

After the most dominant force of the decade retired the world wrote Chicago off. Maybe they could scrape into at the playoffs, but no way would they contend for a title without their fearless leader. Scottie had a point to prove, an axe to grind, and he played with purpose the entire season. Pippen averaged career highs in points (22), rebounds (8.7) and steals (2.9). Without Jordan, he led the Bulls to a 55-27 record and a second-place finish in the Central Division. Pippen received seven first-place votes and 390 overall votes. Given the season he and the Bulls had, one has to wonder if there were those who simply didn’t want to see him earn the MVP trophy a mere year after Jordan’s departure. After all, what would that do to Jordan’s legacy if Pippen won the MVP so soon?


Lifetime Achievement Award #3

What made David Robinson’s MVP Award in 1995 seem like a coronation of a chosen son? Well, consider this: the defending MVP, Hakeem, had virtually the same statisticas he had during his MVP season a year earlier. He and Robinson’s number practically identical: 27.6 10.8 and 2.9 for the Admiral and 27.8 10.8 and 3.5 for the Dream. One has to wonder if it had been Bird or Magic or MJ (or even Nash) those numbers would’ve been good enough to a repeat MVP. Who knows? What we do know is that Hakeem finished fifth overall behind Patrick.

What else made David Robinson’s MVP Award seem like a coronation?By 1994 Robinson had five All-NBA Awards, two of them as a member of the First Team. Robinson also had five All-Defensive selections, including one Defensive Player of the Year Award in 1992.

The Contender

1995 marks the last time Patrick Ewing would appear in the top five vote getters for MVP (’89/4, ’90/5, 92/5, 93/4, ’94/5, ’95/4). After 1995 Ewing’s window of opportunity abruptly closes. A new generation enters the league. Jordan comes back. Shaq and Alonzo come of age in his conference. Another worthwhile point to ponder here is that Pat does not make another All-NBA in 1994 or 1995 despite being voted fifth and fourth in MVP balloting those years. How does that happen? Perhaps because Patrick suffered from being near perfect in era of perfection, or played in the fishbowl known as New York, or always stood in Jordan’s shadow.

The Overlooked

1995 was Orlando’s coming out party. The team goes 57-25 and wins the Atlantic. Shaq finishes second in MVP voting with12 first-place votes and 605 overall. Meanwhile Anfernee Hardaway (20.9, 7.2, 4.2) got no first-place votes (23 overall) despite being equally important to the Magic (and even considered the next “Magic”). When one considers that the season before he joined the Magic they went 41-41 one has to wonder whether he was being purposefully overlooked. By Penny’s second year (and Shaq’s third) the team was at nearly 60 wins.

The John Shaft Award

Barkley leads the Phoenix Suns to a 59-win season and a second Pacific Division title during his tenure. He averages 23, 11, and 4 per game. He shoots 48% from the field. Barkley, MVP of the league just two seasons earlier when he clocked similar numbers, received one first-place vote and 93 overall points.


Realigning the Stars

Jordan takes home 109 of the possible 114 first-place points and garners 1114 out of a possible 1130 possible overall points. The Bulls put together an astounding 72-10 regular season record and waltz through the playoffs. David Robinson makes yet another appearance in the top three vote recipients.

The Contenders

Scottie Pippen’s fifth-place finish marks the first time since Larry Bird and Kevin Mchale finished third and fourth in 1987 that a pair of teammates finished in the top five.


Anfernee Hardaway’s 1995-96 season solidified his superstar status. With Shaq out a whopping 28 games, Penny led the Magic to a 60-win season, a second-straight Atlantic Division title and the third-best record in the NBA. Penny finished third in voting with two first-place votes and 360 overall, not bad considering the hype surrounding the Bulls historic season. What’s interesting is that a season earlier with pretty much the exact same numbers, Penny got a total of 23 votes while Shaq got 605 with 12 first place votes. Again, the preference for the power player prevails.

The Overlooked

Gary Payton led the league in steals and steals per game. He made his third straight First-Team All-Defense appearance. He ranked eighth in the league in assists. Most importantly Payton’s Supersonics went a conference best 64-18, winning the Pacific Division for the second time in three seasons. Payton nevertheless finished sixth behind the likes of David Robinson and Hakeem Olajuwon. Payton’s Supersonics won five more games than did Robinson’s Spurs and 16 more games than Hakeem’s Rockets.

The John Shaft Award

Award not given this season.


A Third Lifetime Achievement Award? You bet

After a third-place finish in 1995 and several seventh and eighth place finishes dating back to the 1987-88 season, Karl Malone edged out Michael Jordan to finally takes home an MVP trophy. Although Jordan’s Bulls won a league best 69 games a year after winning 72, and although Jordan was Jordan, Malone garnered 11 more first-place votes than His Airness and 29 more votes overall—hence the “lifetime achievement” label. In twelve seasons Malone missed a total of four games. For nine straight years he was named First Team All-NBA. In 1996-97 he shot 55% from the field and 75% from the line. His rebounds were actually down below 10 per game for only the second time since he was a rookie and averaged only 30 minutes per game. However, he did average a career-high 4.5 assists.

The Contender

After being traded during the previous season by Golden State, Tim Hardaway led the Heat to a 19 game turnaround in 1997. The team improved from third in the Atlantic to first in just one year. The addition of Hardaway was the only legitimate explanation for the 61-win season that ultimately ended in the Eastern Conference Finals. He was rewarded for his play with a fourth-place finish behind Grant Hill, whose all-around play (21.4. 9, 7.3) helped the Pistons improve by eight games during the 1996-97 season.

The Overlooked

After a disappointing Finals, the Supersonics and Gary Payton regrouped and made a second consecutive run for the Pacific Division title. While his steals and assists were down slightly from the previous year, Payton raised his scoring average to nearly 22 per game and managed to remain in the top ten in the league in assists.

Stockton was second in NBA in assists and eighth in steals. He had the seventh highest field goal percentage in the entire league. Stockton was named to the All-NBA team for a tenth straight season and to his fifth All-Defense team. Despite the team’s break-out success, John Stockton got three total MVP votes in 1997. Imagine Nash getting two votes while Amare won MVP. It doesn’t make sense.

The John Shaft Award

Not given out this season


Back in the Saddle

Once again Malone and Jordan stand atop of the MVP voting. This time, however, Jordan wins convincingly. The Jazz and the Bulls share matching records (62-20) and Jordan’s scoring numbers are down slightly from the previous season. Still, Jordan collects 92 of the 116 available first-place votes and 1084 of the possible 1160 overall votes. What was different about this season? Why did Malone win a year earlier when his Jazz won five fewer games than the Bulls? Why did Jordan win even though his Bulls lost seven more games than they did a year earlier?

The Contenders

The big story of the 1997-98 season was the arrival of Tim Duncan. As a rookie Duncan outscored former MVP and teammate David Robinson by 112 points even though they average nearly identical numbers (21.1, 11.9, 2.7 for Duncan and 21.6, 10.6, 2.7 for Robinson) Wow! Duncan makes First Team All-NBA while Robinson is sent to the Second Team. Double wow! San Antonio finishes second in their division and fourth overall in the West. They lose 4-1 to the Jazz in the second round and yet they have two players who finish in the top seven in MVP voting? Meanwhile, Stockton finishes 13th with five votes. Scottie: 10th with 14 votes.

Shaq misses 22 games for the Lakers, who still manage to pull-off a 61-win season. Shaq nevertheless finishes fourth in voting. How and why does that happen?

The Overlooked

The Miami Heat win the Atlantic Division for the second straight season. Alonzo Mourning misses 24 games due to injury. Tim Hardaway only misses one game all season and yet a year after getting 238 votes, Hardaway only gets 71 votes in 1998.

After losing Shawn Kemp, Gary Payton’s Sonics improve on the previous season’s regular season record and go 61-21. Payton finishes third in voting with three first-place votes and 431 overall.

The John Shaft Award

Washington guard Rod Strickland is selected Second Team All-NBA. He led the league in assists with 10.5. Strictland also averaged 18 points and 5.5 rebounds. His numbers stand up against both Payton’s and Hardaway’s and yet because Washington missed the playoffs after a promising 1997 season that featured a trip to the playoffs he got one vote.


Did Someone Say Lock Out?

Five of the top seven vote getters were big men in 1999. Not surprising. Malone edges out Alonzo Mourning whose Heat finish first in the Atlantic Division for the third straight year. Mourning averaged 3.9 blocks per game and was named Defensive Player of the Year. Missing entirely from the MVP list was Mourning’s teammate Tim Hardaway, whose numbers remained steady. Tim Hardaway never received the praise or accolades for carrying the Heat during Mourning’s absences. Again, the big man bias.

The Contenders

Even with the Admiral still anchoring the defense and dropping in 16 points, 10 rebounds and 2 blocks per game, it is clear by 1998-99 season that Duncan is being groomed to be the next face of the NBA.


Iverson’s Sixers go from seventh in the division to third and make it to the second round of the playoffs for the first time since Barkley was a Sixer. Iverson receives five first-place votes and finishes fourth overall.

Jason Kidd’s Suns finish third in their division with Kidd averaging 16.9, 6.8 and 10.8. He led the league in minutes played, assists, and was fourth in steals per game. Kidd receives two first-place votes and finishes fifth in the balloting.

The Overlooked

In his first season with the Sacramento Kings Chris Webber turns a team that finished 27-55 a year earlier into an immediate playoff contender. He averages 20 points, 13 rebounds, 4 assists and 2 blocks. The Kings eventually played the Jazz to five in the first-round before succumbing. Webber was named to his first All-NBA team (Second Team) but he was given nowhere near the love that Duncan, who for all intents and purposes walked into an ideal situation in San Antonio, was given. On paper Webber’s numbers measured up to both Alonzo’s and Duncan’s and yet he only received a total of 51 overall votes.

The John Shaft Award

Not given out this year


The 90’s close with a new generation of stars coming to the forefront. Karl Malone’s second MVP more or less signals the end of an era that was defined by several consistently spectacular players. Looking back over the voting results from year to year one can find not only discrepancies but outright inconsistencies. Some players were overlooked; others were over hyped. One thing that is clear about the MVP Award in the 90’s is that because of Jordan’s preeminence, other players were given the award even though Jordan could’ve easily won it without dispute. Because it could easily be handed over to Jordan, the MVP Award became a way to recognize a player’s career achievements even though the particular year in which they won wasn’t necessarily their best. Because there weren’t enough years in the decade players like Patrick Ewing never got their proper due as a league MVP. Also, because of the emphasis on honoring careers, the meaning of the MVP became uncertain during this period. For instance, how can the league honor Malone twice without honoring Stockton? Unless it was David Robinson’s turn to win the award, how can Scottie Pippen have the season he had in 1994 and not win the award? How is it possible for Tim Duncan to be given serious consideration for the MVP Award when he was playing alongside one of the most consistently dominant forces in the game? These are just a few of the questions one should ask when looking at the decade that was the ‘90’s

Up next the Twenty-first Century MVP’s by D-Wil


12 Responses to “Podoloff’s Box Part II: The 1990’s”

  1. Those questions used to stupefy. Malone’s two MVP’s, Pat and Stockton’s inability to smell the MVP trophy reaked of fish smelly spectacular.

    As a Sixer’s fan it still is unbelievable the disrespect Ewing routinely received.

    This is the reason true heads think Nash shouldn’t have come close to winning one–let alone two–MVP’s. There just was too many other logical candidates for an MVP repeat. Stockton did it right. Even though he never was a defensive stalwart, he had enough savy to get it done defensively.

    It just seems so ironic that Nash is home while Bron Bron, Duncan and Billups still are around seeking true June shine. When we all look back on this era, the absence of Larry O’Brien’s ghost in Nash’s closet will be most vexing conundrum.

  2. While I love Hakeem Olajuwon (his post moves captured my adolescent imagination, and I consider him the fourth best center ever, behind the holy triumvirate of Wilt-Russell-Kareem), I’ve always considered Pippen’s 1994 season a masterpiece. There’s no player I had more fun watching during Jordan’s exile.

    Mizzo, I think Nash’s ’05 MVP can be justified (I’m not saying it’s a lock he deserved it, but I think you can make an argument he deserved it–and an argument he didn’t). His ’06 MVP, in a year Kobe averaged 35, when LeBron averaged 31-7-6.6, is really lousy, though–so lousy that for me it taints his ’05 MVP too (and in ’05 LeBron averaged 27-7-7, but the Cavs missed the playoffs).

    I hope LeBron starts winning MVPs in big piles so that these incredibly numbers he’s putting up don’t just stand out empty in the future (sort of like Jerry West’s, except it was hard for West to beat out players like Wilt and Russell in the 60s).

  3. padraig Says:

    what a fantastic, fascinating piece. good work hnic. I wasted solid chunk of time watching the youtube clips. The one of Hakeem dominating David Robinson was just brutal. There’s a reason the Spurs never won anything until TD came along.

    I’ve always thought the MVP, and in general any award handed out by sportswriters, shouldn’t be taken too seriously. However during the Jordan Era, because of the MJ’s default/perennial prescence of several deserving elite players there aren’t any noticeable dubious MVPs. Some injustices and headscratching voting certainly but nothing like Dirk this year or Nash in 06′. Malone’s 2nd is the closest but even that can be attributed to the wackiness of any strike-shortened season (a freaking placekicker won the NFL MVP in 1982).

    Ewing suffered not only from being stuck in Jordan’s shadow but also from playing an era of great centers. He was never, in my opinion, the equal of his two peers Hakeem and Robinson and then even if he could have snuck in via the lifetime achievement policy Shaq, Zo and later Duncan came along.

    As far as Nash I feel like he deserves one MVP for the last 3 years cumulatively. I just have a problem with him winning 2 at the expense of Kobe or LeBron. Kevin Garnett or TD could also win it pretty much every year (excepting last year when Duncan was injured). Whatever though, like I said, the MVP is wildly overrated, mostly by sportswriters, when evaluating a player’s greatness. Dirk will still go down as one of the all-time awful choices though.

  4. […] needs to happen. [WBRS Sports Blog] 4) Chronicling just whom gets the MVP in the NBA in the 90s. [The Starting Five] 5) MJD schools us on why hating the Spurs is silly. [AOL FanHouse] 6) A premise that would […]

  5. http://sports.espn.go.com/espn/page2/story?page=boyd/070521 I’d be interested in hearing you all analyze this column too. Off the top of my head, I think he’s trying a little too hard to be street. His writing is good enough that he doesn’t need it. Same with Simmons trying a little hard to be frat boy. Just let your writing speak for itself already. Agreed? or not?

  6. Token Euro Says:

    You should’ve split this up in multiple posts. Points are getting lost in an avalanche of context, names & stats.

  7. maxairington Says:

    While Jordan’s dominance did change the way we view an MVP, it’s almost as if he set an unrealistic standard for the award. He placed second in the voting with a below .500 record in ’87, changed the way we viewed the guard position with his defense and won it in ’88 after improving the team by 10 games, and then went on to establish himself through his team’s excellence for the rest of his career.

    He received votes for several reasons from several different people over the course of his career. Initially, he was a revolutionary talent. Then he was a statistical marvel. He was carrying his team. Then he improved his team, especially Scottie Pippen. Finally he cemented himself by being the ligs best player the ligs best team. And now that he’s gone, the MVP is expected to be the best player on the ligs best team. Its just unrealistic. He was a once in a generation talent.

  8. MaxA,

    Great point about MJ. I think I tried to touch on that but you hit it so much better.

    Token Euro,

    I’ll definitely take that into consideration the next time I do something this long. It is a lot to throw out there in one shabang.

    As for Ewing,

    I think you’re right to say Hakeem had a slight edge on him as did Robinson, but I still think his overall career is worthy of more respect.

    Thanks for the comments people. Keep ’em coming.

  9. padraig Says:

    hnic: No doubt Ewing deserved more respect than he got. I was just saying that there were so many big men on the list ahead of him that he kind of got the Shaft award for the 90s by default. Another problem was the massive amount of hype around him coming out of Georgetown; I watched a Youtube clip of the 1985 lottery and the in retrospect nearly tragic phrase “we’re now going to experience the Patrick Ewing era” was tossed around with aplomb. I mean, he was a great player, but to have expectations of that level foisted on you and then to not even be the 2nd-best player at your own position in your own era…I think he disappointed a lot of people. It’s a shame because in many ways no matter what he did it was never good enough, and even though it doesn’t matter for the MVP or anything he always seemed like a really decent person. I was definitely rooting for his son while watching NCAAs.

  10. HNIC-
    That was part deux beautiful…

    As we’ve talked about this MVP thing, no one should have won the award other than MJ when the Bulls were winning ‘Chips. Those lifetime achievement awards and the, ‘I don’t like this dude, so he’s deaded’ non-votes are the signals that the award is b.s. Oh, and why did Shaq get so much play in 97-98? Probably because infamous dudes like Corie Blount, Mario Bennett, and the fabulous Shea Seals graced the Lakes’ bench.

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    […]Podoloff’s Box Part II: The 1990′s « The Starting Five[…]…

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