We sports fans are a simple bunch.
We like our beer cold. We like our rivalries heated. And we love a good punctuation on a storybook ending.
This is why the superstar hooper always feels obligated to stick that last jumper for extra emphasis after he goes off for 50-plus. Or why a player may become despondent when he doesn’t get to score a touchdown to seal a signature victory (see: Walter Payton, Super Bowl XX).
We do the same thing with seasons and championship games too. It’s why Kobe Bryant won the 2008 NBA MVP, or why Peyton Manning won Super Bowl XLI MVP. Sure, they were good enough to deserve it, but the real reason they won? It’s the story we all craved to be written—it just felt right.
For the last several years, it’s felt like Tom Brady and LeBron James have “deserved” one more regular season MVP. Each boasting GOAT-level résumés already, Brady and James are widely regarded as the greatest athletes in their respective sports in the 21st century. Both men have accomplished pretty much anything one could hope for, relegating the sublime to pedestrian on nearly an annual basis along the way. But that one final exclamation point MVP season has still been missing.
The proud owner of four Maurice Podoloff trophies, LeBron James isn’t hurting for hardware. But voter fatigue is a real thing, a subject that has been pontificated upon in NBA circles for years. This has likely worked against him in the recent past, which is surprising given LeBron is only 32-years-old. Although he’s Montgomery Burns in basketball years, James is fairly youthful in his play. And while his performance has been stellar over the last several seasons, there have been more deserving candidates (Kevin Durant, Stephen Curry, Russell Westbrook, even James Harden, who was runner-up in two of the last three seasons). Quiet as kept, LeBron James — the universally recognized best player in the world— hasn’t won MVP in what will be five years in 2018. But the script has all but written itself.
Coming off arguably one of his best statistical seasons ever, LBJ is now shouldering the load of a Cavs team that is sans Kyrie Irving, and (for the time being) Isaiah Thomas. With future Hall of Famer Dwyane Wade, former MVP Derrick Rose, the feisty Jae Crowder and the flighty Jeff Green now in the fold, coupled with a underused Kevin Love and the reality show that is Shump & Swish still on the roster, it’s incumbent upon James to show more leadership (on and off the court) than he ever has before. The personalities and egos are plentiful, and there’s speculation that hurt feelings have already seeped into the Cavaliers’ locker room.
Another factor working in his favor is the schedule. In an effort to reduce back-to-back games, Commissioner Adam Sliver has expanded the league calendar by two weeks. He’s also threatened to fine teams who rest healthy players during nationally televised games. Each of these amendments should result in LeBron playing in more games. And while he played in 74 contests last season, the Cavs were 0-8 without him; the team’s 51 victories was seen by many as an underachievement. If he played all 82 games though, the Cavs .689 win percentage with James puts them on a 57-win pace, which would’ve ranked third in the NBA, and easily good enough to justify an MVP selection.
Perhaps most important to James’ candidacy is all of his stiffest competition has teamed up with other superstars. As with the 2017 voting, Curry (sixth) and Durant (tied for ninth) will cannibalize votes from one another, as will Harden and Chris Paul, and the Westbrook/Paul George/Carmelo Anthony trio. The only stars who don’t have “enough help” to split the credit for a successful season that has been remotely close the the MVP discussion are Kawhi Leonard, John Wall and Giannis Antetokounmpo.
Given the past team performance and current health status of that group, the smart money is on James to win his fifth MVP, if he can come close to replicating his 2016-17 campaign. And of course he will—he’s LeBron James.
Tom Brady’s path to the Most Valuable Player award is similar.
Most would be surprised to learn Brady has won “only” two regular season MVPs. Even more would be surprised to learn Brady has finished second in voting three of the last four years (’13, ’15 and ’16) and in third place on two other occasions (’03 and ’05). But the lane for his illusive third MVP has never been more open.
Nearly halfway through the NFL season (hard to believe, but it’s almost late October), the “Greatest Living American” is leading the league in passing yards, second in passer rating and tied for second in touchdowns; while his two interceptions are tied for the fewest of any QB that has started every game. He’s been phenomenal, just as Bill Belichick’s defense would be lucky to shut down a Pop Warner offense: dead last in total defense and 30th in points allowed per game.
Sidebar: Heading into last Sunday, Brady was on pace for 5,446 yards, which would surpass his career-high and would rank third all-time for a single season.
Tom Terrific has dragged horrible defensive teams to the Super Bowl before (see: 2011, although this year’s edition is somehow worse). He may have to do it again, but the old guard appears up to the task. New England is still in its birthright position of first place in the AFC East, with five remaining games against their hapless division-mates, one against the Steelers (whom they own) and one against the Chargers, a team that’s the Da Vinci of inventing ways to lose football games. The Pats should take at least five of these contests, leaving them with nine wins. One or two victories from the remaining games (vs. Atlanta, at Denver and at Oakland), would bring their win total to 10 or 11, good enough to justify a third MVP for Brady, if he continues his torrid pace.
And much like LeBron, who is his competition? Alex Smith? Kareem Hunt? They will likely split votes as they share the same backfield (same with Antonio Brown & Le’Veon Bell). Aaron Rodgers, David Johnson, Odell Beckham and J.J. Watt are all out of the picture. Matt Ryan and Cam Newton fell off their MVP pace of the last two seasons. That leaves Carson Wentz and Todd Gurley as the only other notable competition. Barring a spectacular 10-game stretch to finish the year, one would think Brady can outlast them.
The clincher? Tom Brady is 40. That round number sticks in the minds of fans and media. It forces voters to grade on a curve, because, well, being awesome at football is hard when you’re 40. Much like Jay Z’s 4:44, being an old guy who excels at a young man’s game is really impressive. Brady’s odometer will help shape the narrative of this season.
In LeBron James and Tom Brady, sports fans may literally be witnessing the careers of the greatest players ever in their respective sports compete at the same time. As stellar as LeBron James and Tom Brady have been since 2013 (they’ve led their teams to a combined six championship rounds and won three titles), neither has received the game’s top individual honor in that time. Everything is aligning this year though and it would make for a proper sendoff. A lifetime achievement MVP for each is warranted, except these two men, 15 years in, continue to earn it every single day.