MIAMI — LeBron James vows to be a better player next season. After all, he still hasn’t fully impressed everyone.
Many thought the Miami Heat forward would become the first man to be a unanimous pick for NBA MVP in the 58 years the award has been handed out.
Well, in a season in which the Heat won 27 straight games, James didn’t win over 121 straight MVP voters.
In becoming Sunday the fifth player to claim the Maurice Podoloff Trophy four or more times, James got 120 first-place votes from a national media panel. One voter, who has yet to be identified, had New York forward Carmelo Anthony first on his ballot and James second.
“It was probably a writer out of New York that didn’t give me that vote, and we know the history between the Heat and the Knicks. So I get it,’’ James said at the awards ceremony at AmericanAirlines Arena after the voting figures had been released that had Oklahoma City forward Kevin Durant well behind in second place and Anthony third.
The NBA keeps the names of voters anonymous, but let’s hope the one who cast the ballot has the courage to step up and offer a reason. Then that reason can be evaluated.
Fred Hickman, then a CNN sports anchor, denied Los Angeles Lakers center Shaquille O’Neal a unanimous MVP by voting for Philadelphia guard Allen Iverson in 2000. O’Neal also got 120 of 121 first-place votes.
Hickman, who picked Iverson because he believed he was more valuable to the 76ers than O’Neal was for the deeper Lakers, told FOX Sports Florida last week he got death threats after his vote. If the name of the person is identified who voted for Anthony, hopefully nothing that idiotic happens.
In the meantime, at least James has something to shoot for next season. He again can try to become the first unanimous MVP.
Maybe he will. Heat president Pat Riley, who was so in awe of Michael Jordan he retired his No. 23 in Miami even though he never played for the Heat, essentially said Sunday that James is better than Jordan.
“In my humble opinion, in those 46 years … the man that we’re looking at right here is the best of all of them,’’ said Riley, talking about all the players he’s seen since entering the NBA as a player in 1967.
Of the only other four players to have won four or more MVPs, Riley was on the same team with two. Other members of this elite club are Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, who won a record six MVPs and once was coached by Riley on the Lakers, Bill Russell (five), Jordan (five) and Wilt Chamberlain, who won four and was Riley’s teammate on the 1971-72 champion Lakers.
James, 28, is the youngest player to have won four MVPs. He displaced Abdul-Jabbar, who knows his record for hoisting the most trophies is in jeopardy.
“As long as LeBron stays healthy and keeps playing the game at a high level he, of course, could break my record,’’ Abdul-Jabbar wrote in an email to FOX Sports Florida. “The challenges he faces are getting injured or losing interest.’’
Losing interest seems out of the question. With all the tributes that were pouring in Sunday, many had to deal with James’ passion for the game.
“Success also can reveal your character and what you do after you succeed says just as much as what you do after you fail,’’ Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said of James continuing to find motivation after winning his third MVP and leading Miami to the NBA title last season. “Coming back to reinvent himself again after an historic year like that last year, to come back and have an even better year this year, that says a whole heck of a lot about this man’s character.’’
James averaged 26.8 points, a career-high 8.0 rebounds and 7.3 assists. He shot a career-high 56.5 percent, including a career-best 40.6 percent from 3-point range.
After a bitter defeat to Dallas in the 2011 NBA Finals, James turned his attention to improving his post moves. After last season, his focus became his outside shot.
“I thought my 3-point shooting could help me out,” James said. “I thought I could be more dynamic, more guys couldn’t just lay off me and dare me to shoot. So I stayed in the gym twice a day taking threes, putting myself in pressure situations where if I don’t make it, I got to run.’’
James said there are things he needs to improve this offseason, although he won’t reveal them. For now, he has another NBA championship he’s trying to win.
Then he can set out trying to prove wrong that one voter who didn’t list James first on the ballot.