On Monday, the National Basketball Association announced that the Golden State Warriors guard Stephen Curry had been named the league's most valuable player. Despite the impressive victory—Curry garnered 100 of the 129 first-place votes from members of the press—this was one of the more competitive MVP races in recent history.
Ahead of the voting, Curry seemed an odds-on favorite, despite some support among pundits and players for second-place finisher James Harden of Houston as well as four-time MVP LeBron James of Cleveland and Russell Westbrook of Oklahoma City. With commentators largely vacillating between Curry and Harden throughout the year, team public-relations offices launched campaigns to make their cases to voting members of the press.
In such an intriguing year, the criteria for determining what makes a player "valuable" was more subjective than ever. Week after week, analysts debated the merits of the leading players. The various splits in the MVP narrative not only made for a heightened publicity campaign, but also shaped the way teams lobbied for their respective candidates. Here's a glimpse at how the campaigns broke down.
Winner: Stephen Curry, Golden State Warriors
Stephen Curry led the Warriors to an otherworldly kind of season. The team netted a league-high and franchise-record 67 wins, seven better than the closest team. Along the way, Curry broke the all-time NBA record for three-pointers made, ruined lives with late-game heroics, and dazzled crowds with his electric offensive play.
Despite all this, Curry didn't appear to be a lock for the award for a few reasons. He played on a team that stayed healthy for most of the year and had a number of other players very ably back him up. In other words, he was the best player on the best team.
The Warriors campaign for Curry has been described as a low-key and old-school affair. The Warriors media team simply called each of the voting members and emphasized that Curry had led his team to 67 wins, only the 10th team in league history to win that many games. According a voting member from the Orange County Register, the Warriors campaign helped to persuade him to change his vote from Harden to Curry.
2nd Place: James Harden, Houston Rockets
Unlike Curry, James Harden was the best player on a heavily injured and inconsistent Houston team. As the league's second-leading scorer (behind Oklahoma City's Russell Westbrook), Harden shouldered more of the Rockets' offensive load than he probably should have, at times willing his team to finish second in the Western Conference behind the Warriors.
With Rockets star center Dwight Howard out for half of the season, Harden led the NBA in free throws, minutes, and points as well as win shares, an advanced statistic that measures how many victories a certain player's contributions add to a team's total. Accordingly, the Rockets put together a publicity bid for Harden's season that emphasized his all-around performance on a team that badly needed his help.
"The Rockets were more cutting edge, producing a hard-bound book that, when opened, delivers to voters a slick video campaign message," wrote Jeff Faraudo of the San Jose Mercury News. "The inside cover has a sleeve that holds three large cards with more statistical reminders of the season Harden has assembled."
With total votes counted, Harden was the closest runner-up in MVP voting in four years.
While third and fourth place finishers LeBron James and Russell Westbrook didn't have a dedicated campaign blitz behind them, the two remained in the conversation for very different reasons. In James's return to Cleveland, his team's play was preternaturally lousy when James was injured or off the court. (They finished second in the Eastern Conference.) Meanwhile, Westbrook captivated fans by leading the league in scoring with teammate and former MVP Kevin Durant out for most of the season.
Then, of course, there's New Orleans forward Anthony Davis, who finished in fifth place. In just his third season, the star forward made his team suddenly relevant again as the Pelicans made the playoffs for the first time since the team changed their name from the Hornets. In a sly push, the team sent out dolls with Davis' unique likeness to MVP voters.
Just got my Anthony Davis unibrow MVP doll in mail from Pelicans. I know my No. 1. My 2-3 tough. Thoughts? pic.twitter.com/eCbNOjBvnL— Marc Berman (@NYPost_Berman) April 10, 2015
Davis became the youngest player to finish in the top five of the MVP race in six years.
While Curry may have scored a very prestigious piece of hardware on Monday, the award hasn't always translated into the ne plus ultra of hoop dreams, an NBA championship. Since the NBA started handing out MVP awards in 1956, only 22 of the winners played on teams that went on to win a title. Nevertheless, many are betting heavily on Curry to win both.