Current v Former | MVP’s Meeting In NBA Finals

Most Valuable Player can be interpreted a few ways. Some feel the MVP should be awarded to the league’s best player (LeBron James). Others feel it should be awarded to the best player on the best team for that season should they have a player of that caliber (Stephen Curry). And then others prefer to award it to the best player on a playoff team in which he had to carry the most due to certain circumstances (James Harden).

Regardless of your interpretation, the player that wins the award is usually one of the game’s best and that was the case this year with Stephen Curry. But what isn’t always the case is the league MVP reaching the NBA Finals, and what’s even more rare is them squaring off against a former MVP in the matchup.

This season we have both. So as a result, I’ve decided to go back the last quarter-century and see how many times we’ve had the pleasure of seeing an NBA Finals match where the current MVP met a former MVP.

Starting with the most recent, here’s the list dating back to 1990:



2013 – Miami Heat vs San Antonio Spurs

Current MVP: LeBron James

Former MVP: Tim Duncan (2x)

NBA Finals stats

James: 25.3 points, 10.9 rebounds, 7.0 assists, 2.3 steals, 43.0 minutes

Duncan: 18.9 points, 49% field goals, 12.1 rebounds, 1.4 blocks, 36.3 minutes


Entering the postseason most were expecting an NBA Finals rematch from a year earlier between the Miami Heat and Oklahoma City Thunder, but due to an unfortunate Russell Westbrook injury in round one against Houston, the Spurs found a slightly easier path on their way to a fifth final in the Duncan era.

Spurs offensive basketball was on full display throughout the playoffs and especially in this final. Had the series ended in six, Danny Green may have been the Finals MVP thanks to what he did in games one through five – 18.6 points on 65.8% shooting from downtown.

Everyone expected the type of numbers from James in the series as he was clearly the game’s best player, but for Duncan to do what he did at 36 years young was incredible. Perhaps none more impressive than in game six when he posted 30 points and 17 rebounds on 13-of-21 shooting from the field. And if not for a Ray Allen miracle three to complete a five-point comeback in the final 23 seconds, the Spurs would have been five-for-five in the Duncan tenure.

Result: Heat won series 4-3



2008 – Boston Celtics vs Los Angeles Lakers

Current MVP: Kobe Bryant

Former MVP: Kevin Garnett (2003-04)

NBA Finals stats

Bryant: 25.7 points, 4.7 rebounds, 5.0 assists, 2.7 steals

Garnett: 18.2 points, 13.0 rebounds, 3.0 assists, 1.7 steals


In the first year of the new “Big 3” Celtics team featuring Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Ray Allen – not to mention an good young point guard in Rajon Rondo – they went on to win 66 games in the eastern conference but a trip to the finals didn’t come easy. Boston went seven games against the Atlanta Hawks and Cleveland Cavaliers before knocking the Detroit Pistons off in six games to reach the final.

Their treat was a 29-year-old Kobe Bryant fresh off his first NBA MVP after winning back-to-back scoring titles the two years prior. While Garnett was Boston’s best player, it was Ray Allen’s defense against Bryant in the series and Pierce’s incredible all-around series that was key in taking down the game’s best talent.

Boston was 3-0 in the series at home, including a 39-point win in game six.

Result: Celtics won series 4-2



2001 – Los Angeles Lakers vs Philadelphia 76ers

Current MVP: Allen Iverson

Former MVP: Shaquille O’Neal (1999-2000)

NBA Finals stats

Iverson: 35.6 points, 5.6 rebounds, 3.8 assists, 1.8 steals, 47.4 minutes

O’Neal: 33.0 points, 15.8 rebounds, 4.8 assists, 3.4 blocks, 45.0 minutes


Iverson was absolutely incredible in this series, and he had to be if the Sixers wanted any glimmer of hope in taking down the almighty Lakers. Philadelphia shocked everyone when they went into L.A. and took game one in overtime, and who could forget AI’s infamous step-over on Tyronn Lue after hitting a big shot in the corner?

But that 107-101 win against the Lakers in game one would be about all they’d enjoy in the series. These Lakers were in the middle of a three-peat as they were going for their second in a row against Philadelphia. In fact, had it not been for Iverson’s incredible game one, the Lakers would have swept the entire playoffs.  Shaq was absolutely dominant the entire series, just take into consideration that game four was arguably his worst in the final and his line was 34 points, 14 rebounds and 5 assists. How ridiculous is that?

Result: Lakers won series 4-1



1998 – Utah Jazz vs Chicago Bulls

Current MVP: Michael Jordan

Former MVP: Karl Malone (1996-97)

NBA Finals stats

Jordan: 33.5 points, 4.0 rebounds, 2.3 assists, 1.8 steals, 41.7 minutes

Malone: 25.0 points, 10.5 rebounds, 3.8 assists, 1.2 blocks, 40.5 minutes


The last of five NBA MVP’s for MJ as he was going for a sixth title in six tries, this series was close but not close enough. Outside of a dominating game three that saw the Bulls win by 42 points (96-54), every game in the series was decided by five points or less.

Game six of course was no different as Michael’s 45 point, four steal game, including one on Malone in the final minute that led to this…

Probably the way Jordan should have ended his career, with an NBA MVP, Finals MVP and the game-winner for his sixth title in six tries.

Result: Bulls won series 4-2



1997 – Chicago Bulls vs Utah Jazz

Current MVP: Karl Malone

Former MVP: Michael Jordan (4x)

NBA Finals stats

Malone: 23.8 points, 10.3 rebounds, 3.5 assists, 1.7 steals

Jordan: 32.3 points, 7.0 rebounds, 6.0 assists, 1.2 steals


The Bulls followed up their 72-10 season with 69 more wins as they sought their second straight NBA title and fifth in the 1990’s. The series was tied 2-2 with game five upcoming and that became what’s known as the infamous “flu game.”

Jordan couldn’t even get out of his bed on game day until a little over an hour before tip-off and despite having the flu (food poisoning), he managed to put in 38 points – including 15 in the fourth quarter – and lead Chicago to a 90-88 win in a pivotal game five.

MJ poured in 39 more points in game six to secure a four-point win at home and a fifth NBA title.

Result: Bulls won series 4-2



1993 – Phoenix Suns vs Chicago Bulls

Current MVP: Charles Barkley

Former MVP: Michael Jordan (3x)

NBA Finals stats

Barkley: 27.3 points, 13.0 rebounds, 5.5 assists, 1.2 steals

Jordan: 41.0 points, 50.8% field goals, 8.5 rebounds, 6.3 assists, 1.7 steals


Barkley was great in this series – 42 points in game two, 19 rebounds in game three, triple-double in game four. He played like a league MVP. There was just one problem – he went up against Michael Jordan.

MJ destroyed the finals. He had four straight 40-point games, including 55 in game four. He shot at least 50 percent in five of six games and his worst all-around game may have been in the series clincher – 33 points, 8 rebounds, 7 assists – not exactly a bad stat line.

Michael’s all-world performance in the finals led to Suns head coach Paul Westphal to say this after game six:

We can’t stop him; I never said we can stop him, no one can stop him.

You were right about that, Paul.

Result: Bulls won series 4-2



1991 – Chicago Bulls vs Los Angeles Lakers

Current MVP: Michael Jordan

Former MVP: Magic Johnson (3x)

NBA Finals stats

Jordan: 31.2 points, 55.8% field goals, 6.6 rebounds, 11.4 assists, 2.8 steals, 1.4 blocks

Johnson: 18.6 points, 8.0 rebounds, 12.4 assists, 1.2 steals, 45.6 minutes


The start of the dominance for Jordan, he played like Magic Johnson on steroids in this final. Narrowly missing two triple-doubles while coming close in another, MJ’s lowest assist total in a game was nine and his lowest point total in a game was 28.

After a two-point loss in game one, MJ and the Bulls answered with a convincing 21-point in game two win and Michael himself shot 15-for-18 en route to 33 points, including this infamous layup:

Magic had a couple of triple-doubles himself in this series, including a 16-point, 11-rebound, 20-assists performance in game five, but it wasn’t nearly enough against Chicago. The Bulls went on to win four straight after losing game one, including two by at least 15 points and all three games in Los Angeles.

Result: Bulls won series 4-1

Over the last 25 years the current NBA MVP has reached the finals 13 times and just seven occurrences have they faced a team containing a former league MVP with the current winning three of the seven.

Based on our list, six of the seven were won by the better player (certainly influenced by Michael Jordan), Kobe Bryant in 2008 being the lone exception. But almost in every matchup the better player had arguably the better team, with Bryant again being the exception.

But this season looks to be more reminiscent of 2008 with the better player not having the better supporting cast thanks to injuries to Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving. As a result, we may see a similar ending to that Lakers-Celtics final. The better team, in this case Golden State, winning in six games.

That’s my pick, Warriors in six and Steph Curry winning the NBA Finals MVP.

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