Consistent greatness has a tendency to lessen our appreciation for that greatness. There’s not enough friction to get people talking. We’re preprogrammed to root for possible Davids, even as we grudgingly acknowledge the dominating Goliaths. That’s why Karl Malone won an MVP in 1997 and Charles Barkley collected one 1993, instead of adding two more pieces of deserving hardware to the Michael Jordan’s collection.
That’s also why, after winning four MVP awards between 2009-2013—bookending Derrick Rose’s win in 2011—LeBron James hasn’t won another Maurice Podoloff Trophy since. But that’s about to change in 2018 for the consensus best player in the world.
LeBron is going to win his fifth MVP next season, joining the aforementioned GOAT, Bill Russell, and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (the latter of whom has an NBA-record six) as the only players in NBA history to reach that number.
This could be James' last chance to claim No. 5, too. He turns 33 in December, and his competition for the award has never been surrounded by so much talent—which ultimately could hurt their candidacies and help his. Last year’s MVP, Russell Westbrook, now has an All-Star wing in Paul George. The 2016 and 2015 MVP, Steph Curry, has another year with 2014 MVP Kevin Durant. And KD has another year with Steph, plus Klay Thompson and Draymond Green. Two-time MVP runner-up James Harden is now joined in Houston’s backcourt by Chris Paul, who will take a lot of the playmaking pressure off of him during the grind of the regular season. Kawhi Leonard continues to play for the steadiest franchise in the NBA under perhaps the greatest coach in NBA history, but those advantages work against him in a race against Bron.
While the perception is that James isn’t cut from the same cloth as the pathologically competitive Kobe Bryant and Jordan, underestimating his capacity for vengeance is a mistake.
James also has a ton of incentive to put forth one last grandiose regular season run. He isn’t entering this season as the overwhelming favorite to come out of the East. He’s gonna have to bring it to stay up with a Celtics team that added All-Stars Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward over the summer.
But staying on top of the Eastern Conference mountain isn’t all that’s driving James—and it should be noted that the Celtics secured the No. 1 seed last season, and LeBron and the Cavs still steamrolled them in the Eastern Conference Finals.
This season LeBron James should be mad. He was already putting in work the day after the Warriors defeated his Cavs in the NBA Finals. Draymond’s T-shirt only compounded that drive to dominate the 2017-18 regular season. Steph’s wedding video—regardless of how harmless—probably added fuel to the fire.
LeBron was ticked off when the architect for his 2016 title-winning team, David Griffin, wasn’t given a new contract this summer by an owner—Dan Gilbert—who called him a coward in comic sans typeface. He was mad when the Cavs lost out on Paul George and Jimmy Butler, largely because Griff wasn’t around to work the phones.
He was mad, although likely not “beatdown” mad, when Irving demanded a trade—largely to get out of the shadow of playing with the second greatest player in the modern game. The Warriors, Cleveland’s megalomaniacal owner, and Irving all add up to a very aggrieved LeBron James. That’s trouble for the rest of the Association.
While the perception is that James isn’t cut from the same cloth as the pathologically competitive Kobe Bryant and Jordan, underestimating his capacity for vengeance is a mistake. Ask the 2012 Boston Celtics or the 73-win Golden State Warriors.
Remember Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Finals in 2012, aka the time LeBron James mean mugged his way to 45 points, 15 rebounds, and 5 dimes? This was after Paul Pierce hit a game-sealing 3-pointer on James in Miami to give the C’s a 3-2 series lead and lip readers clearly saw The Truth mouthing off at LeBron. Remember what happened after the Warriors went up 3-1 in the 2016 Finals with two of the three remaining games at Oracle Arena?
The point is that LeBron James rises to the challenge, despite being out-gunned. The 2017-18 regular season is another challenge. Allen Iverson is right: LeBron is gonna remind everyone why he’s still the best player in the world. Only this time, it’ll come well before June.