By Tony Massarotti

By Tony Massarotti

I have to admit: all of this talk about the NBA Most Valuable Player Award amuses me. So instead of rooting for Stephen Curry or James Harden to win the MVP, here’s an idea:

Root for one of them to win the championship.

In the world of the all-important, omnipotent and self-indulgent NBA star, it would mean so, so much more.

Take a good look at the NBA of the last 25 years, folks. Starting in 1991, a total of eight teams have won the league championship. Eight. With the exception of the 2004 Detroit Pistons, 2008 Boston Celtics or 2011 Dallas Mavericks, all of these featured someone from the group of Michael Jordan, Hakeem Olajuwon, Tim Duncan, Shaquille O’Neal, Kobe Bryant or LeBron James. If you add Dirk Nowitzki and Kevin Garnett to that list, all you’re left with is the 2004 Pistons.

Don’t look now, but that’s a collection of big men and/or wing scorers who rank among the greatest players in the history of the league.

But Curry? Harden? Those men are a little different, whether you want to categorize Harden as a point guard or a shooting guard. And the ability of either to lead his team to a championship might signal a new era in the NBA, one in which the heir to LeBron (if there is one) is more acutely identified and the Little Big Man is validated.

Me? I’m pulling for Curry, the 6-foot-3 sniper who was drafted seventh and attended Davidson, for goodness sake. He isn’t a dominating physical specimen like Shaq or LeBron. He doesn’t have the size of even Jordan or Kobe. He might be the smallest man to impact the NBA at this level since … who? Isiah Thomas?

Please. No talk here of Dwyane Wade, who was indisputably brilliant in Miami’s first run to the title during the 2006 postseason. But that Wade had Shaq, a behemoth of an asterisk if ever there was one. And as Shaq dutifully reminded Kobe before the Lakers won the 2009 title, Wade has never won a title without Shaq or LeBron.

On so many levels, Curry and Harden would be different, though the former is an even more compelling case than the latter. Unlike so many NBA champions of recent years, the Warriors didn’t win the lottery at the right time, grab the next Duncan or LeBron. Curry certainly has proven to be a brilliant pick, but the Warriors indisputably have been built, which is a rather novel concept in the NBA.

Think about it: with LeBron this time or the last, the Cleveland Cavaliers have never really been built. Why Pat Riley gets any credit for building the Heat for recent years is way, way beyond me. (“Here’s a pile of money, guys. Thanks for coming.”) The current Spurs certainly have been built far more than the ones of years ago, but let’s see what happens with Kawhi Leonard and Co. when the big fella (namely, Duncan) is no longer in the picture.

OK, I admit it: I’m from Boston, which means I have a rooting interest in the Celtics. From Bill Russell to John Havlicek to Larry Bird, nobody understands the value of the great player any more than we New Englanders. Even when the Celtics won their last title, in 2008, vice president of basketball operations Danny Ainge traded a pile of players for Garnett, who won one title and took Boston to the Finals twice in three years. The window in Boston was decidedly short – the Celtics are “rebuilding” again – but that was way, way better than being, say, the Milwaukee Bucks.

Which brings us to the Atlanta Hawks.

Late-season calamities aside, the Hawks have had a nice year. They’re the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference. But does anyone really give them a chance in the East? I don’t. And when you get right down to it, the reason is pretty simple: LeBron. The Hawks don’t have an answer for James any more than, say, than last year’s Indiana Pacers, who made a heck of a run before losing in … six games. The Pacers never even got to a seventh. Until then, Indiana – which has been middling all season – carried the mantle of being the Best NBA Team Without a True Superstar.

Now, whether or not Curry qualifies as a true superstar is certainly open to debate. He is clearly a prolific shooter. But you get the point. If Curry wins the MVP Award but the Warriors lose to the Spurs in the Western Conference playoffs, the credibility of the NBA as a “team” league clearly takes another hit. The franchise player will have won yet again. And that will be even truer if the Spurs beat the Cavaliers who were the laughingstock last season until You Know Who returned.

Don’t you see?

Curry may very well win the NBA MVP this year, which would be a nice statement.

But if he can lead his team to the championship, well, that would have a far, far more lasting impact.


Tony Massarotti covered sports in Boston for more than 15 years for both the Boston Herald and Boston Globe, and now serves as a co-host on afternoon drive on 98.5 The Sports Hub in Boston. He was a two-time Massachusetts Sportswriter of the Year as voted by his peers and has written four books, including “Big Papi,” the New York Times-bestselling memoirs of David Ortiz. You can follow Tony @tonymassarotti.

Tony Massarotti