A lot of today's sports discussion has taken a slightly odd turn. Last night, the Golden State Warriors knocked off the Cleveland Cavaliers to win the NBA Finals. Andre Igoudala took home the finals MVP award and became the first player to do so without starting every game in the series. That achievement has gone by the wayside, though, with the talk of whether LeBron James, who led both teams in minutes, points, rebounds, assists, and usage rate, should have won the award. (Yes, obviously).
Pertinent to the conversation is the question of whether a player on a losing team can actually be the most valuable player. For much of sporting history, the answer has been no. However, the very name of the award seems to suggest that it goes to the player who contributed the most to his team, not necessarily to a winning team. While the sight of LeBron morosely lifting the MVP trophy in front of celebrating Golden State players would have been incongruous to say the least, it isn't without precedent in major sports.
In 1983 Xavier lost a what was essentially a play-in game to Alcorn State and exited before the full 52 team tournament got rolling. That tournament would end with Jim Valvano looking for someone to hug after his NC State Wolfpack knocked off the heavily favored Houston Cougars and Phi Slamma Jamma. It wasn't Derrick Whittenburg or Lorenzo Charles who took home the MVP hardware from that Final Four, and it wasn't a member of the Wolfpack you may be less familiar with, it was Hakeem Olajuwan.
In that 1983 Final Four Olajuwan was as close to one human being can be to being unstoppable. The 20/18/1 line he threw up in the final would probably have seemed unrepeateable if not for the 21/22/0 he posted against Louisville in the semifinal game. Olajuwan shot 55% from the floor and 64% from the line, including 6-7 in the final game. Unfortunately for Olajuwan, that wasn't enough. The end of the game has become famous not for his dominating play but for a tip in of an airball and the ensuing pandemonium. Despite losing the final game, though, Hakeem's Final Four brilliance didn't go unrecognized.
That remains the last time that a major basketball competition has recognized a player from a team that didn't win the championship as the MVP. The NBA had the chance to last night, but took the easy way out. In circumstances such as the individual brilliance of LeBron this year and Hakeem in 1983, shouldn't the MVP go to the player who has actually earned it?