By David Schoenfield
Page 2

Kareem won six times. MJ won five. Bird and Magic each won three. So did Moses. Even the Mailman won two.

SHAQ'S MVP VOTING HISTORY
1993 – 7th (Charles Barkley)
1994 – 4th (Hakeem Olajuwon)
1995 – 2nd (David Robinson)
1996 – 9th (Michael Jordan)
1997 – 9th (Karl Malone)
1998 – 4th (Michael Jordan)
1999 – 6th (Karl Malone)
2000 – 1st
2001 – 3rd (Allen Iverson)
2002 – 3rd (Tim Duncan)
2003 – 5th (Tim Duncan)
2004 – 6th (Kevin Garnett)
2005 – 2nd (Steve Nash)

But Shaquille O'Neal has received just one NBA Most Valuable Player award. With Shaq's latest voting defeat to Steve Nash, some are even wondering if there is a conspiracy of sorts against him, an anti-Shaq voting bloc. That's unlikely, since Shaq is generally well-liked by the sportswriters who vote on the award.

But why just one MVP trophy for a player regarded as the most dominating of his generation? It just doesn't make sense.

Or does it?

1993
Shaq was a larger-than-life figure from his first day in the NBA, and he averaged 23.4 points and 13.9 rebounds (second in the league). Orlando improved from 21 to 41 wins and Shaq finished seventh in the MVP voting as Charles Barkley captured the award (in his first year in Phoenix). Three other centers – Hakeem Olajuwon (second), Patrick Ewing (fourth) and David Robinson (sixth) – finished ahead of Shaq (along with Michael Jordan and Dominique Wilkins). A seventh-place finish seems justified.

1994
Shaq increased his scoring to 29.3 points and averaged 13.2 rebounds (both second in the league), and led the NBA in field-goal percentage. Orlando improved to 50 wins. Amazingly, Shaq was only third-team All-NBA, behind Olajuwon and Robinson, and finished fourth in the MVP voting. (Olajuwon, who led the Rockets to 58 wins, won in Jordan's first year of retirement.)

Think about that for a minute. Patrick Ewing finished fifth in the MVP vote and was only the fourth-best center in the league! Alonzo Mourning was in the league averaging 20/10 and couldn't get a sniff of the All-NBA third team. Today, we get Zydrunas Ilgauskas making All-Star teams and Nazr Mohammed turning into a playoff force. Anyway, it's important to note that Olajuwon and Robinson (first- and second-team all-defense) were regarded as superior defensive players to Shaq. According to the Player Efficiency Rating at basketball-reference.com, Shaq was the second-most effective player in the league, behind Robinson and ahead of Olajuwon. B-R also ranks him third in Player Wins, behind Robinson and Olajuwon. His fourth-place finish in the MVP vote appears justified (although he should have finished ahead of Scottie Pippen).

1995
Shaq averaged 29.3 points and 11.4 rebounds and finished second to Robinson in the MVP vote, although The Admiral easily outdistanced him in first-place votes, 73 to 12.

Let's compare:

THE DIESEL VS. THE ADMIRAL
Stat Shaq Robinson
Points 29.3 26.7
Rebounds 11.4 10.8
FG % 58.3 53.0
FT % 53.3 77.4
Blocks 2.4 4.1
Wins 57 62

Both big guys led their teams to the best record in their conferences. Shaq had a first-team All-NBA teammate in Penny Hardaway, Robinson had Dennis Rodman to help him do the dirty work on D. In all the statistical measures at B-R.com, Robinson outscores Shaq. It appears the voters made the right choice. (Although Olajuwon led the Rockets to the title with one of the great playoff performances of all time, knocking off teams led by Karl Malone, Charles Barkley, Robinson and Shaq in the playoffs and averaging 33.0 points per game along the way).

1996
In his first three seasons, Shaq missed a total of just five games. In his final year with Orlando, Shaq sustained his first major injury and played just 54 games (he still finished ninth in the MVP vote, with Jordan winning in his first full year back from retirement).

1997
Shaq signed with the Lakers as a free agent, joining rookie Kobe Bryant on a team that had won 53 games in 1996. The team improved to 56 wins, but Shaq again battled injuries and played just 51 games. Karl Malone edged Jordan in one of the closest MVP votes (63 first-place votes to 52) while Shaq tied for ninth.

1998
Shaq averaged 28.3 points and 11.4 rebounds and was ranked as the most efficient player in the NBA by B-R.com. This was arguably Shaq's peak year of ability, before he started putting on all the extra weight and combined youthful athleticism with veteran experience. The Lakers featured a convoluted lineup of young Kobe, quick-trigger Nick Van Exel, Rick Fox and Elden Campbell. They won 61 games, and Shaq might have won the MVP but played just 60 games. He finished fourth in the voting – behind MJ, Malone and Gary Payton – which seems generous considering he missed a quarter of the season.

1999
The screwed-up lockout year, when the Knicks finished eighth in the East and still made the NBA Finals – with Ewing hurt. Only four players averaged 22 points per game. The Spurs won the championship by routinely winning playoff games despite scoring less than 80 points. Just a disgraceful time in the NBA. Shaq was healthy again and played in 49 of 50 games, but was just sixth in the MVP voting. He went 26.3/10.7 and finished behind Malone, Mourning, Tim Duncan, Allen Iverson and Jason Kidd. You can make a case for Shaq as MVP, but you can just as easily make a case for the others.

2000
No contest. Shaq led the NBA in points per game and field-goal percentage and was second in rebounding. He even finished seventh in minutes played. The Lakers went 67-15. Shaq picked up 120 of the 121 first-place votes (Iverson got the final one).

2001
First: Iverson, 31.1 ppg, 3.8 rpg, 4.6 apg, 42.0% FG, 71 G, 56 team wins
Second: Duncan, 22.2 ppg, 12.2 rpg, 3.0 apg, 49.9% FG, 82 G, 58 team wins
Third: Shaq, 28.7 ppg, 12.7 rpg, 3.7 apg, 57.2% FG, 74 G, 56 team wins

Who would you vote for? Iverson won in a landslide, pulling 93 of 124 first-place votes. Shaq received just seven first-place votes. This was a classic case of sportswriters acting like lemmings and the Iverson landslide took over, similar to the Nash bandwagon in 2005. Shaq wasn't a clear MVP choice, but the voting certainly should have been closer. Anyway, Shaq got his revenge in the playoffs as the Lakers went 15-1 and beat Iverson's Sixers in the Finals.

2002
The infamous Duncan vs. Kidd debate, as Shaq finished a distant third in the voting. Shaq's case would have been stronger if he hadn't missed 15 games. Duncan won, and he was the right choice.

2003
Duncan won again, with Shaq (27.5/11.1) fifth, behind Kevin Garnett, Kobe and Tracy McGrady. Shaq missed 15 games. Shaq's defenders might try to argue his case, but 15 games is 18 percent of the season. He missed nearly one out of every five games. It's hard be the most valuable player if you're not on the court.

2004
In his final year with the Lakers, Shaq again missed 15 games. Garnett (120 of 123 first-place votes) was the runaway winner, and Duncan, Jermaine O'Neal, Peja Stojakovic and Kobe also finished ahead of Shaq, who averaged a career-low 21.5 points per game. The MVP voters got it right with KG, and Shaq finished about where he deserved to.

2005
You've heard all the debates by now. Bill Simmons did a great job of breaking down the MVP case for Shaq, but it's worth noting that Shaq finished out of the top 10 in scoring for the second straight year and that while he had a career-high 60.1 field-goal percentage, he also had a career-low 46.1 free-throw percentage. It's hard to vote for a guy who is clearly not the dominant presence he was a few years ago.

I can't find one year where Shaq got shafted in the voting. Had he been healthier, he might have won in 1998 or 2001. You could make a case for the lockout year. Early in his career, he got beat out by Olajuwon and Robinson. And if you're too young to remember, those two could play a little bit.

Shaq has one MVP award. And that's what he's deserved.

David Schoenfield last wrote about the baseball World Cup for Page 2.



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