No kidding, Shaq's the real MVP

But they can't give it to him every year. So don't believe the Jason Kidd hype: Tim Duncan is the best pick.

By Allen Barra
May 9, 2002 2:16AM (UTC)
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There's a scene in one of those "Airplane" movies -- I forget which one -- that always makes me think of sports writing. A mob of reporters rushes toward a bank of about 10 pay phones standing in a row. They all hit the phones at the same time, and the entire row falls backward. OK, maybe you had to be there. My point is that so much of what I see and read about sports seems to me to be like the reporters rushing for those phones: Everybody running to file the same story at the same time.

This year, the big story in the NBA is the New Jersey Nets and how Jason Kidd should be Most Valuable Player. You're allowed variations on this story, as in, "Well, maybe Shaq is more overpowering, but Kidd should at least be MVP in the East," and, "Well, maybe Tim Duncan is a better all-around player, but Kidd contributes so many intangibles." But basically that's as far as you're allowed to stray. The perimeters of the story were pretty much set midway through the season, and everyone is expected to line up and give their approval on it in one form or another.


It's nice to know there are still some people in the NBA who think independently. Or at least it would appear that way. Tuesday morning's big sports story, as expressed by a headline in the New York Times, was "Kidd Loses MVP to Duncan, Officials Say." (The official announcement won't be until Thursday, but evidently there was some kind of leak.) Now you'll note that the Times headline does not say "Duncan to Edge Kidd for MVP," the story being that Jason Kidd was supposed to have won the MVP award, so it must now stand that Duncan didn't win it, it was Kidd who lost it. In other words, Kidd got screwed.

The caption under the photo in the Times story reads, "The Nets are disappointed that Jason Kidd will not be the league's MVP." Well, that's the way they ought to feel. If I were a basketball player and I had done for a team what Jason Kidd has done for the New Jersey Nets this year, I'd be pretty darn piqued if the officials of my team didn't voice their disappointment at my not being MVP, and there's no doubt in my mind that the New Jersey Nets officials believe that Jason Kidd is deserving of the MVP. For instance, Rod Thorn, the Nets president: "It has nothing to do with Tim Duncan. He's a good guy and he had a great season. But maybe I have a wrong definition of an MVP. I see it as a player who did more for his team than any player in that year. Seeing what his guy has done for us, I'm very disappointed that the voters did not conclude that it was Jason."

Now when your team goes from the bottom to a record of 52-30, that's how you ought to feel about your star, but shouldn't journalists be a bit more objective? Shouldn't somebody be pointing out that by Thorn's definition, Tim Duncan is, at the very least, an equally outstanding MVP candidate? By exactly what definition or yardstick did Duncan not do more for the San Antonio Spurs -- who won 58 games, by the way, six more than the Nets while playing in a far tougher conference -- than Kidd did for his team?


"Jason is a professional," Thorn said. And what is Tim Duncan -- a volunteer? "Jason helped us in defense, rebounding, and chemistry, the three biggest things we needed to improve." Well, you know, some people think scoring is pretty important, too, and Duncan was 5th in the NBA in that category at 25.5 points per game to Kidd's 14.7. Now of course the immediate rejoinder to that by Kidd boosters is, "Hey, Kidd plays on a team that doesn't feature one great scorer. The Nets spread the scoring around." To which it should be replied: Of course they do, they have to, because they don't have one great scorer like, say, Tim Duncan. If they did, they'd go to him more often.

But let's skip that argument and look at defense, rebounding and chemistry, Thorn's own yardsticks. Kidd averaged 5.7 defensive rebounds per game; Duncan snagged 9.4. Then, Duncan had just 0.8 steals per game while Kidd had 2.13. Kidd, as you might expect, had a big lead in assists, 9.9 to 3.7. Duncan, as you might expect, had a sizable lead in overall rebounds, 12.7 -- a career high -- to Kidd's 7.3. If there is an edge for Kidd there in defense and rebounding, I don't see it. As far as chemistry goes, I have no idea what to say. My experience with chemistry is that it's an exact science: You add this, this and this, you get this reaction. I find that when most people use the term "chemistry" in relation to sports they don't mean something objective and scientific, they mean something more akin to alchemy.

For instance, here's Nets coach Byron Scott: "Tim Duncan and San Antonio win 50-something games every season, and the New Jersey Nets don't." Again, if I were Kidd's coach, I'd want him to stick up for me. But isn't it possible that the New York Times could have found someone a bit more objective on this particular matter? Scott's reasoning doesn't even apply to alchemy. It's more like voodoo. Couldn't someone have found out that Duncan played most of the season without David Robinson, the team's only other near-superstar, and had to help a 19-year-old rookie point guard get himself worked into the Spurs' game plan. Does that not imply some kind of "chemistry" with his team?


Either Tim Duncan did as much or more to help his team win those 50-plus games, or he didn't. If he did, by any objective standard then he is the more legitimate MVP candidate.

This is all bullshit anyway. Everyone knows that the NBA's Most Valuable Player is Shaquille O'Neal, but it gets boring to simply give the award to the same player year after year, so we all have to pretend that there is some objective reason why a lesser player should get it, some kind of "intangibles" that turn the lesser player into the greater once the game starts. Ah, well, the NBA didn't get it right this year, but they could have gotten it worse.

Allen Barra

Allen Barra is the author of "Inventing Wyatt Earp: His Life and Many Legends."

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