“Who is the best NBA player to never win an MVP award?”
The MVP doesn’t always go to the best player in the world, particularly in the NBA where voters like to reward a narrative, just look at Dave Cowens in ’73, Charles Barkley in ’93, Karl Malone in ’97 or Derrick Rose in ’11.
While the best of the best usually manage to put one MVP on their shelf, but there have been a few that missed, so when the question was first posed to me last week, some names immediately jumped to mind.
John Stockton is the all-time leader in both assists and steals.
Patrick Ewing was an 11-time All-Star.
Dwyane Wade was a 13-time All-Star, Finals MVP, and three-time champion.
What about Scottie Pippen? 8 All-Defensive First Team selections, 7 All-Star games, 6 rings. He was fucking great!
Then I thought I had the answer.
He had the Dream Team drama, the Bad Boys reputation and a less-than-stellar career as an executive (not to mention that he’s blocked me on Twitter) but Isiah Thomas was absolutely filthy on a basketball court. He won back-to-back titles and was a threat to win more during the height of the Magic-Bird-Jordan era. He scored 25 points in a quarter of an NBA Finals game on a sprained ankle. He was a 12-time All-Star and won a Finals MVP.
I thought I was done, but I realized I was indulging in recency bias and only focusing on players I watched in my lifetime.
So I went and did some research and thought I had it.
Elgin Baylor was a monster. He made the All-NBA First Team ten times and was an 11-time All-Star. He averaged 27 points per game in both the regular season and the playoffs, made it to eight NBA Finals, and still holds the Finals record for most points in a game with 61.
Elgin Baylor was the answer.
Then, as I descended the rabbit hole of Basketball Reference researching Baylor and his terrific Lakers teams, something shocking began to reveal itself. Baylor wasn’t the only all-time great on his team to never take home the MVP trophy.
Jerry West never won an MVP?! That can’t be right, I thought to myself. He’s the goddamn logo of the league!
I continued to dig and realized that it is indeed somehow correct. West finished in the top five of MVP voting eight times including four second-place finishes, and won both an All-Star Game MVP and a NBA Finals MVP (being the only player on a losing team to receive the honor), but never managed to take home the regular season award.
A case can be made that he should have won it several times, but he most certainly deserved it in 1971 — ’72, when he averaged nearly 26 points and ten assists per game and his team won a then-record 69 games en route to the championship.
He was an All-Star in all 14 of his seasons and made 10 All-NBA First Teams as well as another two All-NBA Second Teams. He was the scoring champion in 1970 and the assist champ in ’72, and finished his illustrious career with more than 25,000 points, 5,000 rebounds, and 6,000 assists, which translates to career averages of 27/6/7. His game wasn’t just limited to offense — he was named to All Defensive First Team four times and the Second Team once.
He was the rare player that somehow elevated his game in the playoffs, averaging at least thirty points seven times, peaking at a ridiculous 40.6 points per game in the 1965 postseason, including 46.3 in a series that year, still a record.
He was star-crossed, having to battle for the championship first against the dynastic, Bill Russell-led Boston Celtics year after year and then the two-time champion New York Knicks. He finished his career with a record of 1–8 in the NBA Finals, but was so great that he was still known as “Mr. Clutch.”
Whether it was bad luck, bad timing, or something else, Jerry West’s career does not properly explain his greatness, and his lack of a Most Valuable Player trophy only reinforces the point.
Jerry West, the greatest NBA player to never win an MVP award.
Christopher Pierznik is the worst-selling author of nine books. Check out more of his writing at Medium. His work has appeared on XXL, Cuepoint, Business Insider, The Cauldron, Fatherly, Hip Hop Golden Age, and many more. Subscribe to his monthly newsletter or follow him on Facebook or Twitter. Please feel free to get in touch at CPierznik99@gmail.com.