MVP Debate’s True Value? It’s on the Front Page

By Jason Menard

It’s the age-old debate that the leagues don’t want you to solve – what exactly does Most Valuable Player mean?

Every year around this same time, fans and pundits alike of both the National Hockey League and the National Basketball Association bring up the same debate: is it best player or most valuable to his team? The wording of the award, Most Valuable Player, plays into that ambiguity itself. There’s no clear definition and the leagues like it that way.

After all, subjective post-season awards are almost as insignificant as all-star nominations. If it weren’t for this borderline-inane debate, we wouldn’t care half as much about these awards. And due to the vague nature of their criteria, any decision will be met with debate, discussion, and even derision.

All of which is good for the ol’ ratings and keeping the sport on the front pages of the newspapers, even when the on-ice or on-court action is a little thin.

However, at the end of the day few remember who or how many, they remember generalities and classifications. Few sports fans would be able to accurately tell you how many individual awards Wayne Gretzky walked away with during his career – but they’d, to a person, be able to identify that he was one of the game’s greats. Same goes for Michael Jordon on the hard court. The image of both is not one of them holding their individual awards aloft – it’s them holding the symbols of team supremacy above their heads.

And there, despite the desires of the professional sports leagues to suppress the answer, is the truth. Sports, despite their focus on individual accomplishments, are in their truest form a team game. Thereby, when we’re looking at a true definition of what most valuable truly means, it has to be done within a team context.

Of course, solving that debate only leads to more discussion. After all, can a player be considered the league’s most valuable player even if his team doesn’t make the playoffs? Conversely, is it easier for a player to dominate when surrounded by a stronger supporting cast, which would make the need for team success secondary to the overall dynamic?

Look no further than Canada’s NBA franchise for direction. While the pundits bandy about names like Steve Nash, LeBron James, and Chauncey Billups in terms of who will appear at the top of their ballot, the Toronto Raptors’ Chris Bosh’s name hasn’t even received a whisper of support. But, in the overall scheme of things, does any player mean more to his team than Bosh? The Raptors, with Bosh in the line-up, are a below-average team that’s capable of competing on a nightly basis. Take the lanky forward out of the line-up and what do you get? The recent multi-game losing streak and poor performances are indicators of that.

Billups, whose team’s starting line-up appeared in the All-Star Game, has the support of solid role players. He fits the role of best player on the best team, but the Detroit Pistons arguably could enjoy significant success without him. Nash? James? Dwayne Wade? All of them are on stronger rosters than Bosh.

The problem’s magnified to a greater degree when we look at the NHL. NBA players often play significant minutes in their games. Even the top NHL forwards will play just over a third of each game. The top defencemen may see half-a-game’s worth of action. Hockey’s team approach almost precludes the concept of one player – save for a goaltender – being considered a difference-maker of the nature that basketball provides. While a Joe Thornton has almost single-handedly revitalized the San Jose Sharks, one would be hard-pressed to say that removing him from the line-up would find his squad scraping the bottom of the NHL’s barrel. Teams like Carolina, Detroit, and Calgary show that the entire roster plays a role in the team’s success? So how does one define the most valuable in this race?

In the end, the most value that the Most Valuable Player debate has is the fact that it gets people talking and invested in the league. As the games get fewer and farther between and golf season looms for a handful of clubs in both leagues, the Most Valuable Player race keeps these sports on the front pages of the sports sections and foremost in the minds of the sporting public.

To the league, it really doesn’t matter who wins. All that matters is you care and you’re talking about it.

2006© Menard Communications – Jason Menard All Rights Reserved

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