The 2016-17 NBA MVP race has everything a fan could want: triple-doubles, the Association's best players, record-setting performances and four strong contenders for an award that usually comes down to two clear favorites at best.
Indeed, one of the greatest regular seasons in modern NBA history has featured one of the greatest MVP debates we've seen in years. The only problem?
No matter what some people might tell you, 2017 isn't the best MVP race of all time — and it's not particularly close.
Mark D. SmithMark D. Smith-USA TODAY Sports
If you're looking for the greatest MVP race in NBA history, look no further than the ridiculous 1989-90 season.
Thirteen players received MVP votes that year; 12 were inducted into the Hall of Fame when their careers were over. The only exception is Tom Chambers — the lone 20,000-point scorer who's not in the Hall.
The 2016-17 field is star-studded, to be sure, but this litany of stars was in a different galaxy: Magic Johnson, Charles Barkley, Michael Jordan, Karl Malone, Patrick Ewing, David Robinson and Hakeem Olajuwon all earned first-place votes.
I defy you to read that list of names and argue this year is a better race just because Russell Westbrook is averaging a triple-double. That's the real argument in favor of 2016-17 — and as FOX Sports' Nate Scott explained this week, the combined offensive explosion from Westbrook and James Harden stems from a shift in the way coaches and players approach the game more than anything else.
Here's all you really need to know about 1989-90. The Detroit Pistons won the NBA title that year, and their two Hall of Fame guards, Isiah Thomas and Joe Dumars, finished tied for 13th in the MVP voting.
While the 1989-90 race was in reality just a three-man competition, compared to the four-man race we have this year, what a trio it was.
Magic Johnson won the award (spoiler!) after leading the Lakers to 63 wins in their first season without the retired Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. Johnson did a little bit of everything that year, even playing center for stretches as needed.
If that reminds you of LeBron James this and every year, the comparison doesn't stop there. The biggest argument against Magic was the talent of his teammates.
"If Magic was off the Lakers, they'd still win 40. If Jordan was off the Bulls, I doubt they could find the bus. But Magic just played every position this year. And they had the best record in the league. If that sounds like a paradox, it is."
Somehow, Jordan was left off of three ballots in 1989-90. That wasn't what cost him the award, but never mind the technicality; such a result seems blasphemous almost 30 years later.
His Airness simply continued to rub traditionalists the wrong way with his ball-dominant ways. Voters overlooked the fact he was arguably the best defensive player in the NBA that season because seemingly every Bulls possession ended in a Jordan shot attempt.
Jordan finished third in the voting (with Malone and Ewing behind him), a result which prompted one writer to remark, "The MVP award is kind of purposely vague, because the league enjoys the fact we sit back and bicker about it. The whole thing is imprecise."
Charles Barkley knows all too well how ambiguous the NBA MVP award can be.
Barkley finished with 38 first-place votes, 11 more than Magic Johnson, yet he didn't take home the hardware for one of the best seasons of his career. He lost first, second and third-place votes to the aforementioned Ewing and Malone, allowing Magic to take home the win due to his strong showing across the vast majority of ballots.
It's the only time in NBA history the player with the most first-place votes wasn't named MVP — a feat we could see repeated this year. Should that happen, maybe we can reconsider 2016-17's standing all-time.
Yet there's one more major argument in 1989-90's favor ...
Sorry, LeBron, but the superstars of yesteryear didn't rest in the middle of the season.
Each of the top nine finalists in 1990 played 78 games or more, and each of those missed contests was due to a legitimate injury or sickness. Jordan played every game, as did Malone, Ewing, Robinson and Olajuwon. Magic and Chuck played 79. Even Larry Bird, whose body was on the verge of giving up, managed 75 games played.
Kudos to Harden and Westbrook for being on pace to play all 82 games this year. That kind of dedication to your craft separates today's game from the days when the MVP race featured Hall of Famers from top to bottom.
When you add it all up, there's no doubt: as great as the 2016-17 NBA MVP race has been, it's just not the best ever.