by Lang Whitaker

My friend Marcus is a huge fan of the New York Knicks. I am not sure why, exactly, although Marcus was born in Africa and raised in Europe, so maybe he just doesn’t know any better.

Anyway, last night Marcus and I were text messaging back and forth about the Knicks and their playoff chances, all while I was watching Kobe pour 60 on the Grizzlies. When the game ended, I texted Marcus and said, “Kobe went for 60!”

Marcus wrote back and said, “Again. What! And Steve Nash will get the MVP again. Hmm. What’s that about?”

Consider this: Kobe Bryant is a three-time NBA Champ, a nine-time All-Star, an eight-time All-NBA Selection, a six-time All-Defensive Selection and two-time NBA All-Star Game MVP. But he’s never won an MVP award.

The obvious question is, Why not?

Well, all three of those titles came while playing next to Shaquille O’Neal, arguably the most dominant center of all time and easily the most dominant big man of his generation. It didn’t really matter how well Kobe played on those teams, because Shaq was always going to get his share of the attention and headlines.

It wasn’t until Shaq went to Miami that Kobe was really able to come into his own as a player and a person. His first season without Shaq, 2004-05, Kobe finished second in the NBA in points per game, but the Lakers didn’t make the playoffs. Then Phil Jackson returned last year and Kobe went buckwild, including that 81 point night against Toronto. Kobe averaged an obscene 35 points per game, the Lakers finished 8 games over .500, made the playoffs, nearly knocked off the Phoenix Suns.

And Steve Nash won his second MVP award.

This season has been an odd one. The Lakers have been beset by injuries all year. But Kobe has been their rock, averaging nearly 31 ppg and carrying the team to a 36-32 record. Not to mention his current run of a combined 175 points in their last three games.

The question, however, remains: Why has Kobe never won an MVP award? And why isn’t he the leader in the clubhouse right now? His shot selection isn’t perfect, and he does seem to coast defensively for extended periods of time, but Steve Nash isn’t exactly Gary Payton and he won two MVP awards.

When I did game notes from that epic Dallas/Phoenix game a few weeks ago, I noted that it was basically an MVP contest: if Phoenix won, Nash became the leader; If Dirk won, he became the leader. Phoenix won, of course, and Nash surged into the lead in the court of public opinion.

At some point over the last few years, the NBA’s MVP award seems to have become about rewarding the best player on the most exciting team. The name of the award is the Most Valuable Player award, which would seem to intimate, at least to me, that it should go to the player who is the most valuable to his team. You can’t really assign numbers to this—unless you’re John Hollinger—which makes it so much fun to argue about.

I understand Nash winning the award two seasons ago. Last season, not so much.

Throughout this season, I think Kobe’s value is becoming more and more obvious every day, with every pass that bounces off of Kwame Brown’s hands, with every game Lamar Odom sits on the bench battling an injury, with every brain fart from Andrew Bynum, with every jump shot that Smush Parker clangs off the rim.

This year, to me, the most valuable player in the NBA is Kobe Bryant.