INDEPENDENCE - LeBron James, the 2009-10 NBA Most Valuable Player, will likely be in Shaquille O'Neal territory.
Now one of James' teammates, O'Neal earned the lone MVP award of his illustrious career with the Los Angeles Lakers in 2000, falling one vote shy of being a unanimous selection.
That is the closest any player has ever come to receiving every first-place vote.
James, who will receive his second straight MVP award Sunday, will likely approach that when official results of the 122 voters - 121 media members and one fan compilation - are released. A few voters, however, are not expected to list the 6-foot-8, 250-pound small forward first on their ballot.
James did not speak with the media Friday, one day before the Cavaliers open an Eastern Conference semifinal series with the Boston Celtics at Quicken Loans Arena, but he is expected to receive the Maurice Podoloff Trophy as MVP on Sunday at the University of Akron.
"He definitely deserves it," Cleveland coach Mike Brown said following a light workout at Cleveland Clinic Courts. The two seasons he's had are remarkable. There's a chance this could have been his third or fourth in a row.
"He's a young fellow. ... Hopefully, he'll have an opportunity to win it many more years in a row."
James led the Cavs to an NBA-best 61 regular-season wins in 2009-10. In winning the award last year, he led Cleveland to a franchise-record 66 wins in the regular season.
"The sky's the limit for him," Brown said. "He can continue to grow by leaps and bounds with how many years he has left in this league."
At 25, James will become the second-youngest player to earn back-to-back MVP awards and just the 10th overall to win in consecutive years.
The youngest back-to-back MVP winner was Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. Others to repeat were Steve Nash, Tim Duncan, Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson, Larry Bird, Moses Malone, Wilt Chamberlain and Bill Russell. Bird, Chamberlain and Russell won the award three years in a row.
James, who is expected to be formally presented with the trophy by NBA commissioner David Stern on Monday prior to Game 2 at The Q, averaged 29.7 points, 7.3 rebounds and 8.6 assists in the regular season.
"Everybody knows how valuable he is to this team and what he does on the floor," Cleveland shooting guard Anthony Parker said. "He certainly had an MVP season."
Last year, James received 109 of 121 first-place votes and accepted the award at Akron St. Vincent-St. Mary High School, his alma mater.
The University of Akron was likely chosen as the site this year because James is an Akron native and played many of his high school games at the school's gym. Akron's coach, Keith Dambrot, was also James' coach for two years in high school.
Abdul-Jabbar, who was a back-to-back winner twice in his career, earned six MVP awards overall. Jordan and Russell have five each, while Chamberlain has four.
Bird, Johnson and Moses Malone won three each, with Duncan, Karl Malone, Nash and Bob Pettit the only other players to win twice in their careers.
James now also has two, and many more could be in his future.
"The year he's had and the things he's done this year, I don't think anybody in the league has topped it," Cavaliers power forward Antawn Jamison said. "The guy just continues to get better and better. This year was a special year. Hopefully, we can end it on a good note."
Contact Rick Noland at (330) 721-4061 or firstname.lastname@example.org.