Original Story | www.nytimes.com
May 10, 2016
By Victor Mather
LeBron James never did it. Neither did Magic Johnson or Larry Bird, or Wilt Chamberlain and Bill Russell. Even Michael Jordan never did it.
But on Tuesday, Stephen Curry did. After a record-breaking season, he became the first player in N.B.A. history to be elected most valuable player by a unanimous vote.
Curry revolutionized the game this season, pouring in a record-shattering 402 3-point shots while leading the Golden State Warriors to an all-time best 73-9 record. He heralded his selection by coming back from injury on Monday night with 40 points including 17 in overtime, in a win against the Trailblazers.
All 131 voters chose him as the M.V.P. Kawhi Leonard of the Spurs placed second and James of the Cavaliers placed third, based on second- and third-place votes.
Before Curry, two players, James and Shaquille O’Neal, came within a single vote of the elusive unanimous M.V.P.
In 2013, in his third season in Miami, James led the Heat to a 66-16 record. He got 120 votes, but one voter opted for Carmelo Anthony of the Knicks, who had led the league in scoring.
In 2000, O’Neal’s only M.V.P. title came within a whisker of being unanimous. His Lakers were 67-15, and he led the league in scoring. He also took the support of 120 voters, with one opting instead for Allen Iverson.
Last season, when Curry had only 286 3-pointers, he got 100 of 130 votes, with 25 seeing James Harden as more valuable, and five choosing James.
Other sports have varied M.V.P. voting systems, some of which have changed over time, so direct comparisons are a little unfair. Still, 17 baseball players have won unanimous selection, including Bryce Harper last season. Tom Brady was a unanimous pick for The Associated Press’s N.F.L. M.V.P. in 2010.
In 1982, Wayne Gretzky became the N.H.L.’s only unanimous M.V.P., getting all 63 votes. It’s a tougher task now, as more than 150 voters currently cast ballots.
It is possible that some N.B.A. M.V.P. voters have been until now reluctant to anoint any athlete as a unanimous choice for fear of singling out that player as the greatest. It is commonly assumed that when superstars fall short of unanimity for the Baseball Hall of Fame, as Ken Griffey Jr. did this year by three votes, it is because some voters, while considering them worthy of the honor, do not want them to be the first ever unanimous choice.
The shortage of unanimous votes can perhaps also be chalked up to simple contrarianism, the same instinct that props up fringe third-party candidates and assures that even the most uncontroversial assertions get no more than 99 percent in public opinion polls.
That instinct goes back at least as far as the early days of the American republic. In 1820, James Monroe ran more or less unopposed for re-election to the presidency, carried every state and was expected to be a unanimous choice in the Electoral College. But one elector, William Plumer of New Hampshire, decided to vote for his friend John Quincy Adams instead.
His vote “excited much wonder, and some censure, at the time,” according to a 1857 biography by his son William Jr. “It however created no surprise in those who knew him, as it was the natural result of his general rule of independent action.” Perhaps Mr. Plumer would have been an Anfernee Hardaway fan.