Steph Curry's '15/'16 season was historical in many aspects. Curry was the first player in league history at any position to average 30 points per game in less than 35 minutes per game over a full season. He broke his own record for 3-pointers made in a season (286 in '14/'15) by not only becoming the first to make 300 treys in NBA history but finishing with 402 on the season. It all led to Curry being the first unanimous MVP in NBA history.
Steph deserved every one of those votes, but two guys get very salty every time Steph's unanimous MVP is mentioned - Shaq and LeBron. Both players were one vote shy of being unanimous MVPs—Shaq in 2000 and LeBron in 2013. For LeBron, the saltiness level is through the roof as Steph is his peer, and LeBron always felt he is a better player than Curry. Your mileage may differ on that point, but let's see why did the unanimous MVP elude these two great players.
Shaquille O'Neal, 2000 MVP
Besides leading the Lakers to a league-best 67 victories, O’Neal led the league in scoring, with 29.7-points per game, and in field-goal percentage, shooting 57.4% from the field. Actually, dunking from the field may be more correct with Shaq. He was second in rebounding at 13.6 a game, third in blocked shots at 3.03, and had a career-high average of 3.8 assists. There was no doubt Shaq would win MVP, but everyone was surprised he won with 121 out of 122 possible first-place votes.
If you ever want to annoy Shaq (and hear him curse), say the name, Fred Hickman. The CNN sports anchor gave his vote to Allen Iverson. AI had a great season, averaging 28.4 points per game, second in the league right behind Shaq. He added 3.8 rebounds and 4.8 assists to a great season, but it seems not a lot of people agreed with Hickman. Iverson finished 7th in MVP voting - Kevin Garnett, Alonzo Mourning, Karl Malone, Tim Duncan, and Gary Payton all finished in front of him. Shaq wasn't the only one mad, but some people took it too far.
“It was crazy. I got death threats. I certainly didn’t mean to be the lone one. 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.”
Fred Hickman, LA Times
When Steph won in '16, Shaq called out Hickman on Inside the NBA (even called him dumb). Hickman, now a resident of Baton Rouge, publicly invited Shaq to break bread next time he visits LSU. Hickman pointed out the vote was supposed to have been secret and that he wasn't doing it to spite The Big Aristotle. He just believed AI was "most valuable," the way Hickman defined valuable.
LeBron James, 2013 MVP
We are talking peak LeBron James here. In his third season with the Miami Heat, LeBron became a complete basketball player. Playing for Erik Spoelstra and learning from Pat Riley, his approach and mental strength were at an all-time high. Finally developing an outside shot, there was no weak spot in his game, and at age 28, LeBron was at his athletic peak. Winning the title the year before unloaded a million pounds off his shoulders, and The King was flying on the court.
The numbers are a classic LeBron - 26.8./8/7.3. The name of the game is efficiency. At 17.8 field goal attempts per game, this was LeBron's second-lowest usage rate in his career!! The man had one of the best individual seasons in NBA history while letting others play their game. As with Shaq, there was no doubt who's going to win MVP. As with Shaq, one guy had a different point of view.
At this point in time, NBA Twitter was a thing, and everyone started developing theories about who was the one guy who didn't vote for LeBron. Dan Le Batard posted a Sunday column titled “No Royal Proclamation Necessary for Miami Heat's LeBron James,” and somehow, the collective hive mind (and a Deadspin article that called out Le Batard) concluded he was the guy. The thing is - it wasn't Batard. I know you're shocked thing like this happen online, particularly on Twitter. Batard pulled one of the best trolling jobs in NBA history - he didn't comment on his vote and got many more readers and listeners in the process.
After all this hoopla, the Boston Globe's Gary Washburn outed himself and wrote a piece explaining why he voted for Carmelo Anthony instead of LeBron. Washburn's explanation was similar to Hickman's for Shaq. He felt Carmelo meant more to the Knicks than LeBron did to the Heat.
“I just honestly felt that Carmelo Anthony lifted the Knicks to new heights this season—a No. 2 seed and their first division title in 19 years—with an aging roster, the team's second-best player [Amar'e Stoudemire] out most of the season, and a myriad of other injuries. LeBron James is unquestionably the best player in the league, but I felt this season Anthony had more value to his team.”
Gary Washburn, The Boston Globe
Washburn also said he didn't expect to be the only person not voting for LeBron, and that he was convinced “Anthony, Kevin Durant, Chris Paul, and perhaps even Kobe Bryant would snag a first-place vote or two.”
The fact he writes for the Boston Globe was everything a lot of people needed to hear - it's no secret the Celtics and Danny Ainge have no love lost for LeBron. Carmelo did come in third in MVP voting and had a great season in New York - 28.7/6.9/2.6. (This one did feel a bit petty)
This is in no way to say Steph didn't deserve his unanimous MVP in '16. He didn't only rule the NBA; Curry changed the way basketball is played, and teams are constructed. I am one of those people who think Steph's actually underrated and can't understand the constant reports a lot of NBA players think he's overrated. But if you ask Shaq or LeBron, he was the first to do it because of Fred Hickman and Gary Washburn.
Honorable mention - Kevin Garnett, 2003 MVP
Look, I can understand "most valuable" always creates a definitional debate. Gut feeling - AI vote was legit; the Carmelo one is a lot more indefensible. But if you ask me, Kevin Garnett got screwed more in '03 than both Shaq and LeBron did. He was three votes shy from a unanimous MVP - Jermaine O'Neal got two, and Peđa Stojaković got one. What???