In the modern world of short attention spans and relentless desire to create or discover something new, the virtues of patience and selflessness have long since dissipated. This has not just been a recent occurrence, however, as the rise in technology over the past 30 years has played a major part in the dumbing down of the average human.
As it applies to sports, the desire for something new is a major reason why fans tend to root against dynasties and repeat award winners. Call it the Yankees Effect or the Michael Phelps Syndrome or whatever you’d like, but it’s well-observed that people can’t stand it when the same team or person wins every single year.
That’s why 1993 was such a bewildering season for the NBA. And it has little to do with Michael Jordan’s decision to “retire” at season’s end.
*Although there is an argument to be made that Jordan was going to be suspended by Commissioner David Stern for gambling, but that’s a discussion for another day.*
In 1993, the Chicago Bulls were coming off a 67-win season and a repeat championship at the expense of Clyde Drexler’s Portland Trailblazers — by all accounts, a well-deserving opponent that reached the NBA Finals twice in three seasons. Michael Jordan was at the peak of his powers, and it looked like the regular season would be a mere formality before His Airness captured an elusive third straight championship.
Up to this point, only two teams in history — the Minneapolis Lakers of the 1950s and the Boston Celtics of the 1960s — had achieved the near-impossible three-peat. Hell, even when the Los Angeles Lakers (1982-1985) and Boston Celtics (1984-1987) of the 1980s reached four straight NBA Finals respectively, neither was even able to repeat during those four-year stretches. It wasn’t until the Lakers repeated in 1988 that a team won back-to-back championships for the first time since the 1969 Celtics.
And so the Bulls were making history in the modern era of basketball, a time when the game had moved far beyond the rudiments of early years and had evolved into a high-flying spectacle. The team was rearing up to conquer the league yet again, but unconvinced NBA fans — especially those who lived outside of the city of Chicago and the state of Illinois — were all searching for the heir apparent, the team that would knock the Bulls from their pedestal.
Two teams emerged to dethrone the Bulls as the best regular season team. The New York Knicks, coming off a cutthroat 1992 seven-game Eastern Conference Semifinals series loss to Chicago, rolled through the east and won 60 games, good enough for the number one seed in the playoffs. Thus, the Bulls were temporarily disregarded with their tame 57 wins.
The second team to emerge was the Phoenix Suns, who, after trading for perennial All-Star Charles Barkley, reeled off 62 regular season victories and established themselves as the best team in the NBA. This is where the conversation begins for who rightfully deserved the regular season Most Valuable Player award for the 1993 season.
It has long been foretold that to win the MVP award a player has to put up stellar numbers while playing for a top 2-3 team in his respective conference. This was fair and all in the years before advanced statistics, but we can now use metrics like Absolute Player Value to fairly compare players beyond simple numbers and records.
For the 1993 season, Michael Jordan still reigned as the NBA’s best player behind an APV of 19.6, 2.5 points higher than Barkley at 17.1. These numbers are derived from Player Efficiency Ratings of 29.7 and 25.9 and Win Shares of 17.2 and 14.4 respectively.
Our proof that Jordan was unfairly snubbed for the award is plainly evident in the MVP voting statistics where Hakeem Olajuwon won nearly twice the amount of votes as Michael and still only came in second. Barkley winning the award is fair to argue, but Olajuwon posted inferior numbers with an APV of 17.85, and his Rockets won fewer games than the Bulls.
Regardless of the Suns’ “superiority” as a team, Michael Jordan still deserved to be recognized as the best player in the league, and his absolute demolition of Phoenix in the 1993 NBA Finals made the argument moot. Barkley was a worthy opponent, as his arrival in Phoenix was a main impetus behind the team reaching the championship series, but Jordan should have been awarded as the first player to win three straight MVP’s since Larry Bird from 1984-1986.
Although the 1993 case of voter fatigue was not the first occurrence as it relates to the NBA — Wilt Chamberlain and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar were both victims during their illustrious careers — the argument of Jordan versus Barkley is a testament to the fact that the media and voters can never be considered completely impartial. And the Most Valuable Player award should no longer be awarded to the “best player on the best team.” Hands down, it should be the player who has the best season and contributes the most value to his team.