Will LeBron James become first unanimous NBA MVP?

MIAMI — Will LeBron James be the unanimous MVP? Or might there be a Fred Hickman repeat?
There never has been a unanimous NBA MVP selection in the 56 years the award has been handed out. The closest anyone has come was when Los Angeles Lakers center Shaquille O’Neal received 120 out of 121 possible first-place votes from a media panel in 2000. The lone dissenter was Hickman, who was then a CNN sports anchor and went with Philadelphia guard Allen Iverson.
“It was crazy,’’ Hickman remembers about the fallout. “I got death threats.’’
Hickman, now sports director for WVUE-TV in New Orleans, doesn’t have a ballot this season. If he did, he said he would vote for James and believes the Miami Heat star should be a unanimous pick.
MVP votes from a panel of 122 writers and broadcasters were due in the NBA office April 18. There’s also one vote that comes from online fan balloting for the Maurice Podoloff Trophy, which will be handed out soon.
When Heat forward Shane Battier was asked shortly before votes were due if he believes James will be a unanimous MVP, he figured somebody in Oklahoma City might make that not possible by selecting Thunder forward Kevin Durant. Each NBA team has three MVP votes that go to its writers and broadcasters, with 32 other votes coming from national media.
“I’m sure there’s probably a couple of handful of voters in Oklahoma City who out of sheer loyalty will have a hard time putting LeBron at the top of that ballot,’’ Battier said of the procedure in which voters select their top five choices. “But those people who are true basketball people, they should do the right thing and put LeBron at the top.’’
Well, that’s what happened. Sources told FOX Sports Florida all three MVP first-place votes from Oklahoma City went to James. So if James isn’t a unanimous pick, a dissenting vote would have to come from somewhere else.
In 1999-2000, O’Neal was an easy choice for MVP after averaging an NBA-high 29.7 points and 13.6 rebounds while leading the Lakers to a league-best 67-15 mark. However, Hickman gave his first-place vote to Iverson, who averaged 28.4 points in leading the 76ers to a 49-33 mark.
“I certainly didn’t mean to be the lone one,’’ Hickman said. “I picked the guy who was the most valuable to his team. Philadelphia without Iverson was a CBA team, and if the Lakers didn’t have Shaq, they would have still been a pretty good team.’’
Hickman hadn’t told anyone his vote and believed it was to have been kept confidential. He doesn’t know to this day how it got out.
“The morning it went public (that O’Neal won the MVP), I was taking my son to school,’’ Hickman recalls. “My former agent called and said, ‘We’re going to have a busy day.’ ’’
Hickman did acknowledge voting for Iverson and provided his reasoning. Still, a firestorm ensued that included the sports anchor receiving death threats.
“About three or four people called and left messages,’’ Hickman said of those threats. “They said, ‘How could you not vote for Shaq? You should be dead.’ I reported them to (CNN) security. That was before the Internet being what is now. Can you imagine if they had Twitter back then?’’
To this day, Hickman still hears often about his vote for Iverson, who did win MVP the following season. Hickman quipped he simply was “a man ahead of my time.’’
But in voting for the 2001 MVP, Hickman didn’t select Iverson. He went with O’Neal, who finished third.
“I thought, ‘Well, if you really wanted me to vote for Shaq,’ ’’ Hickman said.
Hickman doesn’t have a vote this year. If he did, he said James would be the easy choice.
“In 35 years (of covering the NBA), I’ve never seen such a clear-cut favorite,’’ Hickman said. “He should be unanimous.’’
In winning his three MVPs, the closest James has come to being unanimous was in 2010, his final year in Cleveland. He received 116 of a possible 123 first-place votes.
James is expected to join Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (six), Michael Jordan (five), Bill Russell (five) and Wilt Chamberlain (four) to become just the fifth player to win four NBA MVPs. He’s humbled by the possibility.
“I know the history,’’ said James, who averaged 26.8 points, 8.0 rebounds and 7.3 assists while leading the Heat to an NBA-best 66-16 mark. “It would be a unique and unbelievable path if it’s to happen. But we’ll see.”
The only real question left is whether James will be the NBA’s first unanimous selection. But what would happen if history repeats itself and just one ballot doesn’t have James listed first?
“I’m available for counseling for that voter,’’ Hickman said.

Chris Tomasson can be reached at christomasson@hotmail.com or on Twitter @christomasson.