Which NBA player won 2021?
To answer that question, it's time for the return of my annual "Golden Basketball" award -- which, like soccer's Ballon d'Or, considers performance across the NBA regular season and playoffs as well as international competition, distinguishing it from the league's regular-season and Finals MVP awards.
The past year presented an unusually interesting Golden Basketball competition. There's no overlap between the 2020-21 MVP (Nikola Jokic), 2021 Finals MVP (Giannis Antetokounmpo) and the MVP leader two months into the 2021-22 season (Stephen Curry). A fourth player (Kevin Durant) was MVP in the Tokyo Olympics.
The 2021 Golden Basketball race is also unique for the absence of LeBron James, who won four times between the invention of this award in 2014 and it last being handed out in 2019. LeBron would have been an easy pick again in 2020, when the pandemic rendered it more straightforward with no high-level international basketball and only a week of the 2020-21 regular season taking place in 2020.
With injuries and a short playoff run ruling James out of the mix in 2021, Curry (2015) is the only former winner among my four finalists. Will a first-timer claim this year's award? Let's break down the race.