BY: JASON M. SANIN
With injuries to Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love hurting the strength of the Cleveland Cavaliers’ roster, the responsibility has been on the shoulders of LeBron James to keep the team in contention against the Golden State Warriors in the NBA Finals. And while James and his teammates have lacked the ability to hang with the Warriors in the series, James’ performance in the Finals has been so dynamic that he deserves the award for NBA Finals Most Valuable Player even if his team loses. Basketball betting experts know that James is good enough to deliver, but will that bring him the award?
An Uncommon Distinction
In the history of the NBA Finals, only one time has a player from the losing team gone on to win the NBA Finals MVP award. That honor went to Jerry West in 1969, when his Lakers lost to the Boston Celtics. West, whose silhouette is featured on the NBA’s logo, scored at least 40 points in four of the seven games in that series, including 53 points in a Game 1 win.
West averaged 37.9 points per game in that series, and was the only reason that the series went all the way to a deciding seventh game. There are plenty of parallels between West’s performance in 1969 and James’ here in 2015.
How Does LeBron James Compare To West?
James, just like West, is the only reason his NBA Finals is still going on. Through five games, James has averaged 36.6 points, 12.4 rebounds, and 8.8 assists per contest, leading his team in all three categories. James’ 40 point triple double in Cleveland’s Game 5 loss was the second highest point total by a player with a triple double in an NBA Finals game. Who had the highest point total in an NBA Finals triple double? That would be Jerry West, whose 42 points in a 1969 Finals triple double still holds that record.
And when drawing parallels to Jerry West’s NBA Finals MVP performance and that of LeBron James, one has to point out the vast difference in roster quality between the two teams. West’s Lakers team featured Wilt Chamberlain, who is the only player to score 100 points in a game, and superstar Elgin Baylor. James’ team, meanwhile, features three former New York Knicks, the undrafted Matt Dellavedova, and other relatively anonymous role players. To say that James’ numbers aren’t more impressive when factoring in how much less he has to work with on his team would be to ignore the facts of the situation. In fact, the only reason basketball tipsters are considering backing Cleveland is because of the transcendent play of James.
Why James Deserves NBA Finals MVP
At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter how James compares to West. All that matters is how James’ performance in this year’s NBA Finals compares to the other players in this matchup. And while Stephen Curry has been great in the fourth quarters of several games, he has not delivered the consistently great level of play that James has in as many games of the series. For that reason, LeBron James deserves the NBA Finals MVP award whether or not his team wins the NBA Finals.