20 Best NBA MVPs Over the Years

20 Best NBA MVPs Over the Years

NBA fans get to witness a new superstar named MVP every year, but let’s not forget about some of the incredible season-long performances we’ve seen over the years from some of the best NBA MVPs of all-time. They rewrote history by doing what most thought couldn’t be done.

The MVP award is one of the most coveted individual awards a basketball player can get and while it doesn’t quite compare to the ultimate prize – a championship ring – it’s often the next best thing on most players’ wish list. It’s a true testament to their dedication to the game. 

It’s something everyone strives for, but something only one person achieves at year’s end – which is part of what makes the award so special. There’s nothing better than watching the best NBA MVPs hoist that trophy and give that memorable, iconic, and thoughtful MVP speech. 

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Who Are the Best NBA MVPs of All-Time?

20 Best NBA MVPs Over the Years
Scott Meivogel / Shutterstock

The National Basketball Association Most Valuable Player Award is an annual award given to the league’s best regular season performer. It debuted during the 1955-56 season and winners are given the Maurice Podoloff trophy, named after the NBA’s first commissioner and president.

For the first two decades or so, the award was voted on by the NBA players. Today, there’s a panel of broadcasters and sportswriters that vote on the award – along with the other annual awards handed out by the NBA. The panel has an extremely difficult job to do every year. 

The NBA MVP award used to be dominated by big men up until the 1980s, which is when small forwards and point guards started to win the award. Recently, big men have retaken control the past three seasons. With that said, let’s take a look back at some of the best NBA MVPs ever. 

(We’re going to prioritize players that won the award multiple times, so they’ll be found at the bottom of the list. The rest of the list will be decided by which MVPs had the best season)

20. Nikola Jokic – 2021

Nikola Jokic is an active center that’s the reigning MVP after winning the award in 2021. He finished the season with 26.4 points, 10.8 rebounds, 8.3 assists, 1.3 steals, and 0.7 blocks per game. He shot 57% from the field, 39% from long range, and 87% from the free throw line.

Jokic is currently playing in his seventh season after being drafted by the Nuggets in the second round of the 2014 draft. He’s the lowest draft pick to ever win an MVP. In 526 games played, he averages 19.6 points, 10.3 rebounds, 6.2 assists, 1.2 steals, and 0.7 blocks per game. 

19. Allen Iverson – 2001

Allen Iverson is a Hall of Fame guard that won his first and only MVP award in 2001. He finished the season averaging 31.1 points, 3.8 rebounds, 4.6 assists, 2.5 steals, and 0.3 blocks per game. He shot 42% from the field, 32% from long range, and 81% from the free throw line.

Iverson spent 14 years in the league after being drafted by the Philadelphia 76ers with the first overall draft pick in 1996. He’s a four-time scoring champ, three-time steals champ, 11-time All-Star, and seven-time All-NBA player. He averaged 26.7 points per game over his career. 

18. Russell Westbrook – 2017

Russell Westbrook is an active point guard that won the MVP award in 2017. He finished the season averaging 31.6 points, 10.7 rebounds, 10.4 assists, 1.6 steals, and 0.4 blocks per game. He shot 43% from the field, 34% from long range, and 85% from the free throw line. 

Westbrook is currently playing in his 14th season in the league after being drafted by the Seattle Supersonics with the fourth overall pick in 2008. He currently plays for the Los Angeles Lakers, though his production has been declining in recent years. Still, he’s an electric player to watch. 

17. Derrick Rose – 2011

Derrick Rose is an active point guard that won the MVP award for the first and only time in 2011. He finished the year with 25.0 points, 4.1 rebounds, 7.7 assists, 1.0 steals, and 0.6 blocks per game. He shot 45% from the field, 33% from long range, and 86% from the free throw line.

Rose is currently playing in his 13th season in the league after being drafted by the Chicago Bulls with the first overall pick in 2008. He won the Rookie of the Year award in 2009, but his career has been riddled by injuries since winning the MVP award – though he can still ball. 

16. Oscar Robertson – 1964

Oscar Robertson is a Hall of Fame point guard that won the MVP award in 1964. He finished the season averaging 31.4 points, 9.9 rebounds, and 11.0 assists per game. He only missed three games that season, shooting 48% from the field and 85% from the free throw line. 

Robertson spent 14 seasons in the league after being drafted by the Cincinnati Royals with the first overall draft pick in 1960. He won the championship in 1971, was a six-time assists champ, Rookie of the Year, three-time All-Star MVP, and 12-time All-Star honoree during his career. 

15. Shaquille O’Neal – 2000

Shaquille O’Neal is a Hall of Fame center that won the MVP award for the first and only time in 2000. He finished the season with 29.7 points, 13.6 rebounds, 3.8 assists, 0.5 steals, and 3.0 blocks per game. He shot 57% from the field and just 52% from the free throw line. 

O’Neal spent 19 years in the league after being drafted by the Orlando Magic with the first overall draft pick in 1992. He’s a two-time scoring champ, four-time NBA champ, Rookie of the Year, three-time All-Defensive player, 15-time All-Star, and 14-time All-NBA player. 

14. Bob Pettit – 2 times

Bob Pettit is a Hall of Fame power forward and center that won the MVP award in 1956 and 1959. He was the NBA’s first winner of the award when he averaged 25.7 points, 16.2 rebounds, and 2.6 assists per game. He shot 43% from the field and 74% from the free throw line.

Pettit won the award again in 1959 when he averaged 29.2 points, 16.4 rebounds, and 3.1 assists per game. He shot 44% from the field and 76% from the charity stripe. He went on to enjoy an 11-year career that included an NBA championship in 1958 with the St. Louis Hawks.

13. Karl Malone – 2 times

Karl Malone is a Hall of Fame power forward that won the MVP award in 1997 and 1999. His first award in 1997 came when he averaged 27.4 points, 9.9 rebounds, 4.5 assists, 1.4 steals, and 0.6 blocks per game. He shot 55% from the field and 76% from the free throw line. 

Malone won the award again in 1999 when he averaged 23.8 points, 9.4 rebounds, 4.1 assists, 1.3 steals, and 0.6 blocks per game. He shot 49% from the field and 79% from the charity stripe. He went on to spend 19 years in the league and was a 14-time All-Star and All-NBA player. 

12. Steve Nash – 2 times

Steve Nash is a Hall of Fame point guard and current head coach that won the MVP award in 2005 and 2006. He is one of just four guards to win the award in consecutive seasons. In 2005, he averaged 15.5 points, 3.3 rebounds, 11.5 assists, 1.0 steals, and 0.1 blocks per game. 

Nash won the award again the following season when he put up 18.8 points, 4.2 rebounds, 10.5 assists, 0.8 steals, and 0.2 blocks per game. He went on to have an 18-year career in the NBA, leading the league in assists five times. He’s currently the head coach of the Brooklyn Nets. 

11. Tim Duncan – 2 times

Speaking of players that won the award in consecutive seasons, Tim Duncan is a Hall of Fame power forward that won the MVP award in 2002 and 2003. His first rendition came when he put up 25.5 points, 12.7 rebounds, 3.7 assists, 0.7 steals, 2.5 blocks, and 40.6 minutes per game. 

Duncan won the award again the following season when he averaged 23.3 points, 12.9 rebounds, 3.9 assists, 0.7 steals, and 2.9 blocks per game. He enjoyed a long and illustrious 19-year career in the NBA that included five championships and three Finals MVP awards. 

10. Stephen Curry – 2 times

Let’s keep the streak of back-to-back winners going with Stephen Curry, an active point guard that won the MVP award in 2015 and 2016. He first won it when he averaged 23.8 points, 4.3 rebounds, 7.7 assists, 2.0 steals, and 0.2 blocks per game. He shot 44% from long range. 

Curry won the award the following season when he averaged a then-career-high 30.1 points, 5.4 rebounds, 6.7 assists, 2.1 steals, and 0.2 blocks per game. He’s currently playing in his 13th season and is already a three-time champion, two-time scoring champ, and eight-time All-Star.

9. Giannis Antetokounmpo – 2 times

Giannis Antetokounmpo is an active power forward that’s the most recent player to win the MVP award back-to-back – he did so in 2019 and 2020. He first achieved the feat when he put up 27.7 points, 12.5 rebounds, 5.9 assists, 1.3 steals, 1.5 blocks, and 32.8 minutes per game. 

Antetokounmpo won the award the following season after averaging 29.5 points, 13.6 rebounds, 5.6 assists, 1.0 steals, and 1.0 blocks per game. He’s currently playing in his ninth season, is the reigning champion, won Finals MVP, and won the Defensive Player of the Year award. 

8. Moses Malone – 3 times

Moses Malone is a Hall of Fame center that not only won the award back-to-back, but won it three times in a span of five years – he won in 1979, 1982, and 1983. His first award came after he averaged 24.8 points, 17.6 rebounds, 1.8 assists, 1.0 steals, and 1.5 blocks per game.

Malone won it again in 1982 and 1983 with two different teams. During those two seasons, he averaged 27.8 points, 15.0 rebounds, 1.5 assists, 1.0 steals, and 1.8 blocks per game. He enjoyed a 21-year career in the NBA and won the 1983 championship with the 76ers. 

7. Magic Johnson – 3 times

Magic Johnson is a Hall of Fame point guard that not only won the award back-to-back, but won it three times in a span of four years – a leg up on Moses Malone. Johnson won MVP in 1987, 1989, and 1990. He likely would’ve won more if his career wasn’t derailed by the HIV illness. 

In 1987, Johnson averaged 23.9 points, 6.3 rebounds, 12.2 assists, 1.7 steals, and 0.5 blocks per game. He put up 22.5 points, 7.9 rebounds, 12.8 assists, 1.8 steals, and 0.3 blocks per game in 1989 and 22.3 points, 6.6 rebounds, 11.5 assists, 1.7 steals, and 0.4 blocks per game in 1990. 

6. Larry Bird – 3 times

Larry Bird is a Hall of Fame forward that is one of just three players to win the MVP award three years in a row – he achieved it in 1984, 1985, and 1986. During that span, he averaged 26.2 points, 10.1 rebounds, 6.7 assists, 1.8 steals, 0.9 blocks, and 38.6 minutes per game. 

Bird enjoyed an illustrious 13-year career in the NBA after being drafted by the Boston Celtics with the sixth overall pick in 1978. He was the 1980 Rookie of the Year, he won three titles with the Celtics and two Finals MVPs, was a 12-time All-Star, and a three-time All-Defensive player.

5. Wilt Chamberlain – 4 times

Wilt Chamberlain is a Hall of Fame center that won the MVP award four times – including three consecutive years between 1966 and 1968. He first achieved it in 1960 as a rookie when he averaged 37.6 points, 27.0 rebounds, and 2.3 assists per game with the Philadelphia Warriors.

During his three-year reign as MVP, he averaged 27.3 points, 24.2 rebounds, and 7.2 assists per game. Of course, that doesn’t include his incredible season when he scored 50.4 points and 25.7 rebounds per game. He was a seven-time scoring champ and two-time NBA champion. 

4. LeBron James – 4 times

LeBron James is an active five-position player that won the MVP award back-to-back on two different occasions and four times in the span of five years – he won it in 2009, 2010, 2012, and 2013. He’s also a four-time Finals MVP, four-time champion, and three-time All-Star MVP. 

During the 2009 and 2010 seasons, James averaged 29.1 points, 7.4 rebounds, 7.9 assists, 1.7 steals, and 1.1 blocks per game. During the 2012 and 2013 seasons, he averaged 26.9 points, 8.0 rebounds, 6.8 assists, 1.8 steals, and 0.8 blocks per game. It was an unstoppable run.  

3. Bill Russell – 5 times

Bill Russell is a Hall of Fame center that won the MVP award five times – three consecutive seasons between 1961 and 1963, and then in 1959 and 1965. It was an incredible stretch that was part of a longer run of 11 championships in 13 years – all of which with the Boston Celtics.

During his 13-year career, he averaged 15.1 points, 22.5 rebounds, and 4.3 assists per game. During his three-peat of MVP, he averaged 17.5 points, 23.7 rebounds, and 4.1 assists per game. He was a 12-time All-Star, four-time rebounding champ, and 11-time All-NBA player.

2. Michael Jordan – 5 times

Michael Jordan is a Hall of Fame shooting guard that won the MVP award five times between 1988 and 1998. During that span, he also won six championships and six Finals MVP awards. This is the run that cemented him as one of the game’s greatest of all-time – it was legendary. 

He finished his 15-year career in the NBA with 30.1 points, 6.2 rebounds, 5.3 assists, 2.3 steals, and 0.8 blocks per game. He was a 14-time All-Star, 10-time scoring champ, three-time steals champ, 1985 Rookie of the Year, nine-time All-Defensive, and 1988 Defensive Player of the Year. 

1. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar – 6 times

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar is a Hall of Fame center that won the MVP award a record six times between 1971 and 1980. During that span, he averaged 28.2 points, 14.4 rebounds, 4.5 assists, 1.2 steals, and 3.5 blocks per game. He shot 56% from the field and 72% from the charity stripe.

Abdul-Jabbar enjoyed an illustrious 20-year career in the NBA that included six championships, 19 All-Star selections, two Finals MVP awards, and a Rookie of the Year award. He was a two-time scoring champ, four-time blocks champ, and one-time rebounds champ in his career.

Which Active Players Might Win an MVP Soon?

Isn’t it crazy to think that while the NBA MVP award has been handed out 66 times since 1955, only 35 players have won the award. In fact, the 14 players that have won the award more than once have combined for 45 of the 66 awards. It goes to show how dominant some players are.

Despite how competitive it can be, there are a few players in today’s game that could join that coveted list soon. Some names to keep an eye on include Ja Morant, Luka Doncic, Joel Embiid, Devin Booker, Jason Taytum, Jimmy Butler, DeMar DeRozan, and Zach LaVine

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You never really know who’s going to explode onto the scene and in a league with so many superstars, there’s often a lot of controversy over who deserves the award. Nonetheless, one player will emerge victorious and they’ll get to write their name among some of the greatest. 

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