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James Harden blames MVP snub on media: ‘They just take that narrative and just run with it the entire year’

James Harden is not only the current MVP runner-up, but he has finished in second for the NBA’s most prestigious award three times in total. Those losses have made Harden rather cynical about the voting process for the award. In an interview with 97.9 The Box (as transcribed by NBA.com), Harden argued that the media’s method for picking an MVP is inherently biased and based in narrative rather than production. 

“Once the media, they create a narrative about somebody from the beginning of the year, I think they just take that narrative and just run with it the entire year,” Harden said during the in-studio interview. “I don’t want to get into details. All I can do is control what I can do, and I went out there and did what I was supposed to do at a high level. There’s only a few other seasons that anybody has ever done that before.”

“People were tuned in to how many points I was going to score the next game,” Harden continued. “It was a thing. But I can’t control that. The only thing I can control is coming back next year and being better than I was, and winning a ‘chip.”

“Narrative” is certainly a factor in MVP voting, but it’s worth noting that it has worked for Harden in the past. Remember that Harden was named 2017-18 MVP despite having seemingly inferior raw statistics to LeBron James

2017-18 STATS LEBRON HARDEN

GP

82

78

PPG

27.5

30.4

FG%

54.2

44.9

3FG%

36.7

36.7

eFG%

59.0

54.1

APG

9.1

8.8

RPG

8.6

5.4

In this instance, “narrative” helped Harden. He had already finished in second for the award twice, and there was a feeling that he was due. James, on the other hand, had already won it four times, and played for a largely dysfunctional Cleveland team. Harden’s Houston Rockets were the NBA’s best regular-season team. He was certainly a deserving MVP winner, but he took home 86 out of a possible 101 first-place votes. That kind of margin only comes from buzz when the numbers are that close. 

Harden’s case against Giannis Antetokounmpo this season played out very similarly. The two were similarly productive, with Harden scoring and assisting more while Antetokounmpo scored more efficiently, rebounded more and played better defense. But Harden had already won the award, and played on a Rockets team that had regressed significantly from where it was a year ago. Antetokounmpo was ascending, played for the NBA’s best team and hadn’t yet won the award. He claimed 78 first-place votes, a margin that can be somewhat explained by narrative. The two were both deserving candidates, but the margin was blown open by that variable. 

No player is immune to the buzz built around MVP voting. James lost out to Derrick Rose in 2011, which looks fishy in hindsight. Michael Jordan lost out to Karl Malone in 1997, which made little sense. But in both instances, and several others, those injustices were rectified in the postseason. Jordan beat Malone in the 1997 NBA Finals. James beat Rose in the 2011 Eastern Conference finals. 

Harden can’t reclaim that lost hardware, but he can use it as motivation for a very different trophy. “There’s only one goal,” Harden said. “Every year, one goal. I do what I do on the court for us to win. That’s it.” There is no voting when it comes to winning championships. If Harden earns one on the floor, he will win it. That is what he can control, and that is where his focus should be moving forward. 

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