Basketball is a team sport.
Whether it came from our parents, coaches, or even the mythical figures we watched on our screens, it’s a cliché that’s been thrown to us ever since we all were kids. It’s repeated so often it’s reached point that we’ve grown tired of hearing it. We get it. To win in this sport, it requires the involvement of all. There’s no need to mention it again on a gloomy Wednesday afternoon.
But in this new era of basketball fandom, it deserves to be repeated again and again, whether you like it or not: Basketball is a team sport.
The sports industry has been experiencing a massive shift in terms of the habits of its consumers. “You see this shift in sports where kids are following athletes first, then they’re following clubs and then they’re following leagues because they want that one-to-one connection with the athletes, or athletes that they admire,” said Heidi Browning, chief marketing officer for the NHL, in a piece by Alex Silverman of Morning Consult.
Change is inevitable and it should be welcomed. But at times, there reaches a point when new trends breed toxicity rather than innovation. When it comes to athletes being the primary product of following rather than teams, toxic attitudes have been manifested the most over one thing: the Finals MVP award
For most of the league’s history, Finals MVP has been a bonus award when compared to the NBA championship. However, in the last five years, it’s slowly crept up to the Larry O’Brien trophy with regards to individual value within fans of the game. The award has become an important part of the basis in determining a player’s legacy. In fact, before the season started, one of the hyped-up points in Kawhi Leonard’s Clippers stint was the possibility of him getting a Finals MVP with a third team; the first of its kind in league history.
In theory, this shouldn’t be a bad thing. Rewarding a player for performing well in the Finals should be normal. The award having a corresponding effect to an athlete’s legacy should be par for the course.
However, toxicity has been bred when the award is used to discredit the accomplishments of other players. We’ve seen Kobe haters argue that Pau Gasol should have won Finals MVP in 2010. Paul Pierce haters argue that Kevin Garnett should have been the award winner in 2008. Then of course, there’s Kevin Durant and Stephen Curry from the 2017-2019 Golden State Warriors. Curry haters will always mention Steph’s failure to win the award. Durant haters will argue he wasn’t the most valuable player of the Warriors dynasty.
I mentioned the word haters four times in the previous paragraph. Even that isn’t enough to quantify the amount of hate that’s been thrown at players, using the award to justify their arguments.
In the 2020 NBA Finals, there were attempts to create division between the Los Angeles Lakers fanbase with the rhetoric used between Durant and Curry. This time, its subjects were Anthony Davis and LeBron James. If Davis won the award, that would be a black mark against LeBron’s legacy. If LeBron won the award, that would mean Davis was carried to a championship because he couldn’t do it in New Orleans. That’s how it works, right?
LeBron captured his fourth Finals MVP after the Lakers beat the Heat last Monday. Over the last 48 hours, it’s been used to further LeBron’s case as one of the greatest players of all time. He is rewarded for his excellent performance in the Finals; that should be normal.
However, Davis wasn’t given the award. That should mean he road the coattails of James and the Lakers and he remains soft since he couldn’t carry the Pelicans to success, right? That’s the new normal we face in basketball fan circles today. But just because it’s the norm, doesn’t mean that it should be norm.
Limiting the discussion of Finals MVP to individual success would be an insult to the true value of the award. The Larry O’Brien trophy is still the biggest award in all of basketball. The Finals MVP enriches that by awarding an individual who perfectly encapsulated the team’s overall success. The victory of one shouldn’t mean the loss of the other.
The King’s otherworldly blend of playmaking, scoring, and cerebral approach to the game played a huge part in the Lakers’ success. But for every lob pass, miss, and screen set for a Lakers play was a Brow who finished so many plays set up for him over the course of this season.
AD has been called the best teammate LeBron has ever played with. The Brow made a strong case for that with how well his style of play and attitude blended with James’ own exploits.
LeBron summed it up best in his Instagram post celebrating AD: Brow + King = Ring.
Remove The Brow, and the Lakers probably don’t even sniff the Finals. Remove The King, and Los Angeles probably doesn’t even make it past the first around.
Did Anthony Davis need LeBron James to win a championship? Yes.
Did LeBron James need Anthony Davis to win a championship? Also yes.
Those two facts shouldn’t diminish anything out of LeBron and AD’s individual exploits. It is possible to celebrate the success of one while also giving credit to the other.
Basketball is a team sport.
It’s a cliché, but it has to be repeated again and again. LeBron and AD both perfectly exemplified the spirit of what basketball is all about. They worked together and it resulted to the ultimate award in the NBA, a championship. LeBron’s Finals MVP should only enrich the journey the entire Laker team went through. Given AD’s young age and LeBron’s never-ending prime, it wouldn’t be a surprise if the script was flipped in a future season, with Davis lifting the Finals MVP. These two are just getting started.