Abolish NBA Finals MVP after giving it to Warriors’ Curry

The NBA Finals MVP Award has ostensibly been bequeathed to the stand-out performer on the triumphant Finals teams — and once to Jerry West — since 1969. Three Golden State Warriors have had this award conferred upon them: Rick Barry, Andre Iguodala and Kevin Durant (twice). It does admittedly feel somewhat spiritually false that Stephen Curry has yet to manage one in five tries. Assuming the Warriors pull it out against the Boston Celtics, the sixth should be the year he wins it. He’s been amazing.

But quite honestly, the Finals MVP feels like such a monumentally unimportant afterthought to the bigger situation at hand. This is especially evident in the case of Stephen Curry, but beyond his somewhat notable situation with this award, who … really … cares? Not to imply that any award is inherently just or worthwhile, but NBA Finals MVP seems like an especially underwhelming coda to a story already concluded.

How did this award — basically (with some funny exceptions) a foregone conclusion to be handed out to the “best” player on the team that wins the championship — manage to somehow become something that needs to be checked off before true greatness can be considered? It should be puzzling that it can generate heated discourse from fans and especially from the game’s loudest gatekeepers, whether they be retired players with bruised egos or yowling media hucksters. It’s my considered opinion that we should push to abolish this second-tier award at once, starting next week, if possible. To put it bluntly, the Bill Russell Trophy doesn’t justify accidentally watching even three seconds of a legacy debate between Stephen A. Smith and Michael Wilbon.

Who actually craves this award? I’m as much of a “it’s about the journey, not the destination” type of person as anyone else, but at that specific point in the journey, the only game in town is the real trophy, not this perfunctory also-ran trophy. Unfortunately, this award will most likely — unless Adam Silver reads this column and has a very weird Road to Damascus moment — continue its 53-year reign of terror.

Assuming a Golden State victory, if Stephen Curry fails to win it this year, this year when he really should — almost undeniably, even for the usual grouches and naysayers — then a proper response is so be it and who cares? If he does win it, cool, very happy he got that monkey off his back, but be assured that the people most eager to point out that he hadn’t already won it will instantly pivot to “Well, can he win it again? Now that would prove greatness!”  

Please don’t get me wrong: In a just world, Stephen Curry should already have at least one Finals MVP. If somehow I fail to convince the NBA to immediately trash this award, I truly hope he wins this one. But it remains a diversion within a diversion, a prize that’s been weaponized far, far beyond its importance to signify or not signify whatever the loudest sea lion in the studio is screaming at you on television.

Maybe this award really does mean a lot to Curry and he’s being a good stoic when he says “the smaller trophy isn’t the motivation at all.” And maybe if he wins it — this year or next or at age 40— there will be no more weirdly manufactured narratives designed specifically to knock Curry off his pedestal.

Or maybe analysts — armchair and otherwise — will still use the award as a cudgel to beat their moronic drum even harder. They’ll find a way. Easily. What if the Warriors win the series but Jayson Tatum has two 50-point games in a row? What if Klay Thompson hits the go-ahead three in Game 7 as Curry struggles in an underwhelming 4th quarter? What if Andrew Wiggins smiles his famous smile at one of the 11 media members who choose the Finals MVP?

Rest assured, these well-heeled sages will continue to mangle our shared reality to deny Steph Curry a career untainted by caveats and hypotheticals and counterfactuals. If Curry wins the Finals MVP, but doesn’t put up Game 4 numbers again, some hack will root around in the slop and refer to it as a consolation prize. Bill Simmons might even compare it to the Academy deciding to throw Martin Scorsese a bone by allowing “The Departed” to win Best Picture, just for old times’ sake.

It’s a damned if you do, damned if you don’t award. It changes nothing in the big picture. The team that won still won, the team that lost still has a long summer of existential dread ahead of them. I implore the league to quietly end this lackluster tradition before it continues to give the dumbest people on TV more excuses to howl at the moon and cling to their narratives that the NBA only be contemplated through the lens of a warped version of the great man theory. Remember how nobody respected Napoleon because the Duke of Wellington won Finals MVP at Waterloo?

For whatever reason, and despite his popularity and the almost universal consensus that he’s one of the league’s best and most entertaining players, Curry doesn’t qualify as a great man to most of these jokesters. Maybe it’s a contrarian bit, or damaged egos, or not having eyes that work, or thinking all that shimmying is without honor. Whatever the dumb reason, there’s still plenty of room in NBA discourse to endlessly argue about individual greatness. Rookie of the Year! Most Improved Player! And crucially, the actual MVP award! We can choose to care or not care about that one for months and months. 

But back to Steph Curry and his specific relationship with this award. Curry’s one of those superstars that seems to be punished when his team does well. Frontrunner. System player. He has too much help. Just witness Andrew Wiggins having the audacity to have an incredible Game 5. It refocused the debate of Finals MVP, literally three days after Curry’s agreed-upon masterpiece in Game 4, not to mention his excellent series in general. 

Iguodala's 2015 Finals MVP is still a joke, despite the writers defending it.

Iguodala’s 2015 Finals MVP is still a joke, despite the writers defending it.

MediaNews Group/Bay Area News vi/MediaNews Group via Getty Images

People have been saying this a lot lately, but somehow it bears repeating: Basketball is a team sport. It’s actually awesome that his teammate had a great game when he struggled! And yet that’s all a bit too complicated to process for people like Skip Bayless (who has made a career out of his pathological grudges against certain individuals) or Nick Wright (who has made a career out of being wrong about everything) and the rest of these Tartuffian frauds. Wiggins to them is seen not as Curry’s teammate, which he is, but as his rival. A rival for an award that neither will think about two seconds after it’s handed to them. Fine, Wiggins will think about it for up to 15 seconds, but I daresay the championship might just matter more to everyone currently alive, and probably to most dead people as well.  

It’s something of a joke (not the hilarious kind, more like Milan Kundera’s debut novel) that Andre Iguodala won this award in 2015 on the strength of seven of the 11 media members who constituted that year’s Star Chamber. The other four voted for LeBron James. Each of them more or less stands by their respective decisions. Hey, why not just give it to David Lee, whose reemergence into the rotation breathed new life into Golden State’s offense? Like Iguodala, he helped turn the tide and beat down whatever tenacity the short-handed Cavaliers had left.

I’m kidding, David Lee should not have won it, and inserting Iguodala in the starting lineup was huge. But huge enough? Looking at the numbers it is curious what exactly these 11 people wanted Curry to do that could garner him even one vote for Finals MVP. Punch LeBron James in the face? Be taller?

The goal posts can and will always be moved again with an alacrity that will make your head spin. Guys like Tracy McGrady will never accept Steph Curry as a truly elite player, and that’s fine! Reporters with axes to grind like Brian Windhorst will always find a way to leave their slime on something beautiful.

The real power move here would be Curry winning Finals MVP and then formally renouncing it, hurling it into a Chase Center waste-basket and declaring it a pointless byproduct of winning a championship, but unless I’ve been misreading his personality since the first Obama administration, this is unlikely to transpire.

Still, even if he should fail to secure this disposable decoration in a potential Warriors loss or even victory, Curry remains in good company. Dozens and dozens of all-timers are without the Bill Russell Trophy, such as Bill Russell. In the end, even much more objectively impressive achievements like championships and MVPs and broken records shouldn’t entirely define players or slot them into some sacrosanct country club out of reach from others just as talented or unique or weird whose luck didn’t quite break the right way. But they still work as a sort of crude barometer, if you’re intent on thinking about sports as an unvarnished numbers game. 

Finals MVP, though? That’s a perfect attendance award. That’s a punctuality award. Time to crumple it up and lob it into the dustbin of history. Steph Curry doesn’t need one, and really, neither does anybody else.

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