Sun Sentinel Columnist
8:49 PM EDT, May 4, 2013
Not one. Not two. Not three. Not …
"You know you're about to get your fourth MVP?" Dwyane Wade said to LeBron James the other day as they sat in the Heat's training room. "And it's your fourth in five years?"
"I'm still a kid from Akron,'' James said.
We know by now this kid is the best of his basketball generation, the best athlete in South Florida history, period (sorry, Dan Marino). But this fourth MVP that will be awarded Sunday lifts his working legacy into rare air.
The list of players to win four league MVP awards in five years is a short-list of the greatest names: Wayne Gretzky, hockey's greatest player; Barry Bonds, baseball's most prolific hitter; Bill Russell, basketball's greatest champion; and now LeBron.
So you can sculpt LeBron on that Mt. Rushmore today. Or you can expand the frame to LeBron's first 10 years and note only Gretzky, Russell and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar won more MVPs at this career milepost.
Gretzky won an other-worldly nine MVP awards in his first NHL decade, Russell and Abdul-Jabbar five each. Wilt Chamberlain tied LeBron with four in that period.
As noteworthy, look who's behind LeBron: Basketball's Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson and Larry Bird and football's Brett Favre won three MVPs after 10 years.
"I won one and finished twice second, so I can appreciate what it means to win four,'' said Heat assistant Bob McAdoo, a Hall of Fame player. "I'd say this puts him in the Top 10, all-time, in the game already."
There's the word that applies the proper historical perspective. Already. LeBron is only 28. He's only near the halftime of a career, so his career eludes the hard, historical grasp even as his name assumes a lofty place.
LeBron's MVP awards are evenly between his final two years in Cleveland and his two latest with the Heat. That provides another twist of history: Only Abdul-Jabbar won multiple MVPs with different teams in the NBA.
Still, categorizing any career by the MVP count is a tricky concept, because it's not the end-all award, as James and every basketball fan knows.
"It's not the first way you measure careers,'' LeBron said.
"Rings,'' LeBron says.
It was team titles, not personal MVPs, that LeBron referred to on the night he signed with the Heat three years ago with the sing-song rant, "Not one, not two, not three, not four, not five, not six, not seven …"
For a long stretch, the MVP voting didn't always take itself as serious reflection of a regular season. Utah's Karl Malone, who never won a title, was given the MVP as a career-achievement award in 1997 when, as Heat forward Shane Battier says, "Voters grew bored of voting for Jordan."
That year's NBA Finals told a truer story. With Game 1 on the line, Malone missed two free throws and Jordan hit a game-winning jump shot. By Game 6, when Jordan closed out the title despite being ill, the true MVP was clear.
Russell, who has 11 titles, once was asked what he thinks of when he sees his five MVP awards in his home. "That I need to wash the glass on the trophy case,'' he said.
He regularly wears a championship ring, though.
Here's what MVP awards do: They separate the greatest from the great. Gretzy's nine are the most for a player in team sport. Bonds won seven. For LeBron to catch them, he'll have to combat a historical trend of the first decade of a basketball career being the brightest.
Abdul-Jabbar and Jordan won two MVP awards after their first decade in the league. No player has won more in their career's second half.
"He almost got five in five [years],'' Wade said of LeBron's MVPs. "How crazy is that?"
This might be crazier, if you're already looking ahead:
"I'll be better next year,'' LeBron said after the Heat's practice Saturday.
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