Ranking all-time MVP seasons

And could LeBron James ever surpass No. 1 on the list?

Updated: August 23, 2012, 12:58 PM ET
By Neil Paine | Basketball-Reference.com
Wilt Chamberlain/Lebron James/Michael JordanNBAE/Getty ImagesWhose MVP season ranks the best all-time? Chamberlain's, James' or Jordan's?

The NBA first handed out its Most Valuable Player Award way back in 1956, and in the years since we've seen a veritable "who's who" of basketball hoist the Maurice Podoloff Trophy. As Bill Simmons once wrote, the NBA's MVP is the one that means the most out of all the major North American sports, because fans care deeply about the result (unlike the NFL MVP) and the winner is always a truly great player (rather than a good player who had a flukishly great year, as we often see in major league baseball).

Case in point: Every Hall of Fame-eligible MVP winner has eventually been elected to the Basketball Hall of Fame, something you can't say of either baseball or football.

Having said that, though, there are varying degrees of performance among MVP seasons. ESPN.com's Summer Forecast says LeBron James is the clear-cut favorite. Some years will feature a clear-cut MVP who vanquishes all of his rivals, while others generate controversial results that are still argued to this day.

To help sort out the former from the latter, I enlisted the help of Basketball-Reference's Win Shares (WS), John Hollinger's Estimated Wins Added (EWA), Daniel Myers' Value Over Replacement Player from 1978 (VORP), MVP award shares, and a regression formula that measures how MVP-worthy a player's numbers were by the standards of other historical winners.

Using a combination of those metrics, and keeping only the best season if a player appeared multiple times on the list in rapid succession, here are the 10 greatest MVP seasons in NBA history:


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Neil Paine writes for FiveThirtyEight, the data-supported sports, politics and culture site coming soon from ESPN.