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December 06, 2001

MVP a Most Vexing Process
By Dan Patrick

Shaquille O'Neal is upset because he finished third and not second in the NBA's MVP voting. I'm fairly sure it isn't because he didn't make the MVP incentive clause in his contract, if he even has one. Shaq undoubtedly had a great year, but the process goes way beyond that vague measurement into one that is even more imprecise.

Allen Iverson
Allen Iverson shot just 42 percent from the field this season but still proved his value to the Sixers -- especially in the eyes of MVP voters.
What is value? Can you really define value? Should it be "most outstanding player"? The "value" part is what screws us all up, because what's value to you is not necessarily value to me. Value comes in all different shapes and sizes and is certainly particular to all different sports.

This year, I voted for Allen Iverson for MVP, Shaq second and Tim Duncan third. I'd like to think I understand value. In other words, it's clear to me that Iverson played the biggest part in how well his team did this year. I can make that case so I voted for him. The problem is trying to understand how other people define value.

Last year, I was one of the majority in the almost-unanimous MVP decision for Shaq. Fred Hickman was the only person who did not vote for Shaq. Hickman's definition of value was Allen Iverson. That was his opinion. But because he was the only one, he was widely chastised.

Fred and I actually laughed about it. If you're going to be known for something, you might as well do it right. But that vote underscored the difficulty of the process. Shaq's dominance was clear to ... everyone who had a vote except for Fred. Weird.

This year there are even more questions. No one can argue that Shaq is the most dominating player in the NBA this year. But while Duncan may not put up 35 points or 21 rebounds, he did help the Spurs to the league's best record. You may ask: How many times did Duncan shoot more than 25 times a game? When I asked him that question last week, he replied, "I'm not required to do that." He went on to say he couldn't really remember ever shooting that much.

Why penalize Duncan for what he gives to his team and what he means to the Spurs? Duncan is not someone who aspires to lead the league in scoring; he's just not that type of player. But he does aspire to win championships -- and both he and Shaq have one. Duncan doesn't really care where he finishes in the MVP voting, but Shaq did feel slighted.

Allen Iverson is required to put up 30 shots; he shoots a low percentage but he still has to squeeze off those shots. His value to his team was far greater this year than Shaq's was to the Lakers. Shaq also has the supporting cast -- Kobe Bryant might be the second- or third-best player in the game. That probably hurt Shaq in the voting this year.

When assessing Iverson's value to his team, you have to look at it from a different perspective. OK, he's a gunner and he's not a true point guard. But it takes talent and tremendous ability to squeeze off 30 shots every night when the opponents are aware you're going to do that. He's not one-dimensional; he also led the league in steals. Would I like to see him shoot a better percentage and maybe have a few more assists? Yes. But, like complaining about the mole on Cindy Crawford's face, that's just nitpicking. And I eventually got used to the mole.

The media tends to get caught up in numbers – and sometimes numbers do factor in – but numbers don't always tell the whole story.
You can make the same argument in the NHL. In my opinion, there is no one more valuable in hockey than Mario Lemieux, yet Joe Sakic will most likely win the NHL's MVP award. On pure hockey talent, Sakic was clearly the best player in the NHL this season, but in terms of value -- there is no more valuable person to that league than Lemieux.

After a three-and-a-half-year absence, Lemieux's comeback has turned a profit for the Penguins and is saving the franchise. Lemieux has taken his team to the frozen four, the Eastern Conference semifinals, where he helped even the series with two assists in Game 2. He's taken the series home for at least two more games in his arena, which translates into bigger profits for the Penguins. That's value.

The media tends to get caught up in numbers -- and sometimes numbers do factor in -- but numbers don't always tell the whole story. For example, in 1998 no one was more valuable to baseball than Mark McGwire. Throughout his home-run chase, McGwire put fans back in the stands, not only in Cardinals' seats but also in stadiums across America. And oh, by the way, he broke Roger Maris' home-run record by hitting a monumental 70. But the Cardinals didn't make the playoffs. Sammy Sosa, who also had a great year, hit four fewer homers but his Cubs played in the postseason. Sosa won the MVP.

The term "value" is so subjective. What about the writers who overlooked Ted Williams for AL MVP in favor of Joe DiMaggio when Williams won the Triple Crown? Or when writers voted Terry Pendleton NL MVP and not Barry Bonds? What influenced their decision? Perhaps it was because of DiMaggio's 56-game hitting streak. Or because both DiMaggio and Pendleton were regarded as more "media-friendly" and both Williams and Bonds were known to be more terse with the media.

In some of those selections, I happen to think personal bias entered in for some writers. "Let's see. Joe and Ted had great years. Joe's a nicer guy so I'll vote for him." That's going to happen in any process involving humans. But I don't think Shaq has to worry about that. As matter of fact, Cindy Crawford aside, most people think he is a nice guy. But this year, they also felt that Iverson was more valuable.

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