Generally, an NBA MVP is inadvertently on a dominant team that goes on deep runs into the playoffs. However, there have also been occasions when NBA MVPs went on to see their team knocked out in the first round itself. While sometimes this may be due to the NBA MVP belonging to a lower seeded team, some huge upsets have also been recorded in the league’s history. In the last decade alone, two regular-season NBA MVPs have been knocked out of the playoffs in the first round.
NBA MVPs who got eliminated in first round of playoffs
There have been a total of five NBA players who were selected as the MVP but ended up losing in the first round of the playoffs. Moses Malone holds the unwanted record of being the only player to be eliminated in the first round as an NBA MVP. Additionally, the only two players who have won the NBA MVP award as a rookie both find a place in the following list.
#5 Wes Unseld
Apart from Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Wes Unseld is the only NBA rookie to have won the MVP award, a feat that he achieved in the 1968-69 NBA season. He spent his entire career with the Washington Bullets and won the championship in 1978. Wes Unseld was a 5-time NBA All-Star and the 1978 Finals MVP as well.
Unseld is widely recognized as one of the best rebounders of all-time and was drafted by the then Baltimore Bullets in the 1968 NBA draft. He wasn’t a prolific scorer, but averaged a whopping 18.2 rebounds in addition to 13.8 points per game. The Bullets were famously eliminated by the New York Knicks in four straight games.
#4 Moses Malone
A 3-time NBA MVP, Moses Malone was a dominant two-way center who was selected as an All-Star a total of 12 times. He won the championship with the Philadelphia 76ers in 1982, but not before suffering two first-round exits as an NBA MVP.
Another center known for his rebounding prowess, Malone averaged 24.8 points, 17.6 rebounds and 1.5 blocks per game during the 1978-79 regular season. Malone was impressive in the first round against the Atlanta Hawks, although his team ended up losing in straight games. The second time Malone lost in the first round was in the 1982-83 season, prompting him to switch teams.
#3 Russell Westbrook
A comparatively recent phenomenon, Russell Westbrook broke a number of NBA records enroute to his MVP season back in the 2016-17 season. With Kevin Durant having left the Oklahoma City Thunder at the start of the season, Westbrook ended up producing the first of his three consecutive triple-double seasons, earning the NBA MVP award despite the Oklahoma City Thunder finishing 6th in the NBA Western Conference.
They ended up losing against James Harden’s Houston Rockets in the first round of the playoffs, with quite a few people questioning the decision to give the award to Westbrook. Regardless, he became the second NBA player after Oscar Robertson to end a season averaging a triple-double.
#2 Dirk Nowitzki
In the 2006-07 season, Dirk Nowitzki and the Dallas Mavericks were the stark favorites to win their first round of playoffs against the Golden State Warriors. Nowitzki had averaged 23.6 points, 8.6 rebounds and 4.5 assists, all career-best numbers until then.
However, the Mavericks ended up losing to the Warriors in 6 games. Dirk Nowitzki had been underwhelming, averaged less than 20 points and had a shooting efficiency of less than 39%. He later described the playoff series as the low point of his career.
Also Read: Who is Dirk Nowitzki's Wife, Jessica Olsson?
#1 Kareem Abdul-Jabbar
One of the greatest basketballers ever, Kareem-Abdul Jabbar won the NBA MVP award and the championship 6 times each. He joined the LA Lakers at the beginning of the 1975-76 season and missed the post-season for the Bucks during his last campaign.
During his first season for the LA Lakers, Kareem produced 1,111 defensive rebounds and won his fourth NBA MVP award. However, he ended up missing the playoffs again as the LA Lakers crashed out in the first round. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar had a stat line of 27.7 points, 16.9 rebounds, 4.1 blocks, 5 assists and 1.5 steals per game.