Russell, Wilt, Bird ... and Nash?   

Updated: April 9, 2007, 6:30 PM ET

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Steve Nash basically won the MVP award Sunday. But that's not the issue. The question now has become: Does he deserve it?

It has nothing to do with whether Nash has earned the MVP, or whether he should win it, or whether he's the most valuable player to his team. None of that matters anymore. With five games left in his season it's about history and his place in it.

On only three other occasions in NBA history has a player won the MVP award three consecutive seasons. But it's what happened when those three players won their awards that's at the point of debate over whether Nash deserves the award for a third season in a row.

The MVP race came down to two games: on April 1, when the Suns beat the Mavs 126-104 (Nash had 23 points and 11 assists) and Sunday (Nash had 25 points and 11 assists, including 11 points in the fourth quarter). And even though the Suns won both games, the contest inside both games was judging Nash against the two players who were in position to "knock the champ out and take his belt," Dirk Nowitzki and Kobe Bryant. With Nash outplaying Dirk in that rout (and in Phoenix's classic March 14 double-OT win as well) and the Suns winning in Los Angeles as Kobe failed to have his eighth 40-plus game in a month, Nash locked up the MVP vote and secured his place as one of the greatest players of this generation.

Which is why history comes into question.

If you look at the players who won three MVPs in a row -- Bill Russell (1961-63), Wilt Chamberlain (1966-68) and Larry Bird (1984-86) -- and if you include the six-year stretch between 1986-92 when Magic and Michael flipped the award between themselves three times apiece, one fact is consistent among all of them: rings.


Players with three straight MVPs
Bill Russell, Celtics, 1961-63
* won three titles
(Russell also won MVPs in '58 and '65 and a title in '65)

Wilt Chamberlain, 76ers, 1966-68
* won one title
(Chamberlain also won MVP in '60)

Larry Bird, Celtics, 1984-86
* won two titles

Others with three MVPs
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Bucks-Lakers ('71, '72, '74, '76, '77, '80)
* two titles, one Finals runner-up

Moses Malone, Rockets-76ers ('79, '82, '83)
* one title

Magic Johnson, Lakers ('87, '89, '90)
* one title, one runner-up

Michael Jordan, Bulls ('88, '91, '92, '96, '98)
* four titles

* the number of titles refers to titles won in an MVP year

Now we all know that the MVP award is given for performance during the regular season. But if we the media keep brainwashing you all into believing that sports is all about winning and players should be judged mostly on their ability to do that, what does it mean when a player who is on the verge of redefining what this generation of basketball represents doesn't have a ring on his finger?

When Russell won his three MVPs, he also won three rings. In the middle of Wilt winning his three, he won one chip (1967). In his reign, Bird won two rings ('84 and '86). And during that MJ six-pack, Jordan and Johnson snatched two championships apiece.

Steve Nash has yet to even play in an NBA championship game.

Which is why the question has to be thrown out there, now that it appears Nash has the collective consensus of those voting. Can Steve Nash's consideration for MVP be only about his play this season or should it be about something bigger?

Should we judge solely on how he performed this season or do we have to take into consideration what it actually means for a player to win the award three times in a row? What does it say about the game when someone wins the award that many times but never wins a ring or reaches the Finals? (Obviously, the Suns have a great shot to do so this year.) No disrespect, but ... is this baseball? (Barry Bonds' MVP run from 2001-04 comes to mind, but he did play in the 2002 World Series during that era of supremacy).

Basketball is a different sport. It's that sport with the overused cliché and the concept that individual greatness is defined by "how a player makes everyone around him better."

That's the lexicon of the game, how greatness is achieved and rewarded. Steve Nash may be the best player in the history of the game when deliberating that concept. The argument: If he doesn't win or play in the final game of the season, how true is it? How much better has he really made the players around him? When you see someone's name in the record books three years in a row as the best player in that sport, it seems -- if you look at Russell, Chamberlain, Bird -- like there should be a championship attached to it, something more significant than what happened over 82 games.

And the bigger question, if this line of thinking finds ground over the next couple weeks, is if this is at all fair to Nash. Should his play be judged by what it will mean in the midst of history or should everything remain as-is and he be judged, voted on, made a living martyr by what he did on the basketball court between the months of October and April?

Stephen A. and Dave Aldridge sway with Nash. Doug Stewart of the "Two Live Stews" sways with history. Are we unfair to the game's history? Or unfair to Nash?

In the end, it is history we're going to have to answer to. How do you explain to kids 15 years from now who missed Nash's revolutionary display of basketball that he hat-tricked the MVP award without winning a championship?

How can we do this with consciousness clear or without ever thinking to ourselves years later, how did that happen? Was the NBA really that bad during that during those years? Was Bob Ryan right?

So which way do you sway? Even if the Suns reach the Finals this year, the question will remain valid. If they win the chip, it will justify Nash's third Podoloff trophy and leave the argument on life support (is Nash really on the level of Russell, Chamberlain and Bird?). And history doesn't die. At least not easily.

If only they had given Shaq the MVP two years ago.

Scoop Jackson is a columnist for Page 2 and a contributor to ESPN The Magazine. He's also the host of ESPN Original Entertainment's "NBA Live: Bring It Home". Sound off to Scoop and Page 2 here.



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