The legendary Bob Pettit of the St. Louis Hawks got his hands around the trophy the first time, and ever since then, NBA greats past and present such as Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (six times), Bill Russell (five), Michael Jordan (five), Wilt Chamberlain (four), LeBron James (four), Moses Malone (three), Larry Bird (three) and Magic Johnson (three) have lifted the Holy Grail of individual basketball honours.
But as history as proven, although the MVP award is a good indication of NBA greatness, it isn’t everything. While the award is given at the end of the regular season, the league is truly decided by the eventual champions, who have to excel in the playoffs and the Finals, too.
There are several talents who excelled at different moments and were never recognized as a regular season MVP, and others who had a strong body of work throughout their career but never one season where they were the absolute best in the league.
Here is an ode to the 10 greatest players in NBA history who never won an MVP award.
While these greats have never collected the Maurice Podoloff trophy (named in honour of the NBA’s first commissioner), they have done enough to write their names among NBA legends and proven that they were still valuable to the league and their teams.
The only rule here? The player must have spent at least seven seasons in the NBA to be considered, so that current younger talents can be given a chance to grow into their primes and become great – or valuable.
First, here are those who closely missed the cut: Patrick Ewing, Jason Kidd, Gary Payton, Clyde Drexler and Nate Thurmond.
And now, here are the top 10 NBA players never to win an MVP trophy:
10) Walt Frazier
You may now know Frazier only as that fly old guy rocking leopard skins and dropping versatile verses on the mic as the Knicks’ colour commentator, but the point guard fondly known as ‘Clyde’ is one of the greatest players in New York basketball history. Frazier was the backcourt pillar in the greatest era of Knicks’ history – the late 60s and 70s – as the team won two championships and got to three Finals.
Frazier has been a four-time member of the All NBA first team, seven-time All Star, and one of the greatest defensive guards in history. Playing alongside Willis Reed (the team’s captain and MVP) and in a selfless, team-first system, Frazier never shone as much individually to win an MVP trophy himself.
But his Knick legend is secure!
9) Rick Barry
One of the game’s greatest small forwards with the ability to master all aspects on court, Barry has won everything but a regular season MVP award.
The only player in history to lead the NCAA, ABA and the NBA in scoring, Barry was also a great passer and rebounder of the ball. He played in eight All Star games, was in the All NBA First team five times, and his teams always found a way to overachieve despite mediocre talent.
8) Kevin McHale
McHale never won an MVP award because, when playing next to Larry Bird, he was never even the MVP of his own team.
But a resume that included three championships with the Celtics in the 80s, an All NBA first team appearance, seven trips to the All Star game, and a complete offensive and defensive skill-set that ranks him among the game’s greatest ever power forwards definitely make him eligible for a spot in this list.
McHale had more post moves than any player of his time, and formed the league’s best-ever frontline alongside Bird and Robert Parish in Boston.
7) John Stockton
On talent and records alone, Stockton deserves to rank near the top of this list, but alas, the lack of NBA championships drops him down to seventh.
One of the game’s greatest-ever point guards, Stockton is the NBA’s all-time leader in assists and steals (by considerable margins). He spent his entire career with the Jazz, where he and Karl Malone helped the team reach two NBA Finals, both losses to the Chicago Bulls in the 90s.
Stockton played in the league for 19 glorious years, played in 10 All Star games, and All NBA First Teams, leading the league in assists nine times. While teammate Malone won two MVP awards, Stockton was equally (or some would say more) valuable to his team.
6) Dwyane Wade
The only reason Dwayne Wade will now surely end his career without ever winning a regular season MVP award is because he has played in an era crowded by so many other greats.
From Kobe Bryant to LeBron James to Kevin Durant, the baton of the league’s best player has frequently been passed along with Wade always falling a little short. But no matter, since Wade has a clear lead over many in the more crucial department: championships.
He tasted success early as a champion and Finals MVP in 2006, and, as he has gotten older, has taken a step back for team success in Miami, where LeBron James helped him lift two more titles.
Wade’s best season was 2008-09, when he averaged 30.2 points and 7.5 assists a game, and he also had one of the greatest ever Finals performances in 2006. He has 10 All Star games and two All NBA First Teams to his name, too.