BOSTON — Los Angeles Lakers star Kobe Bryant collected 82 first-place votes in winning the NBA’s Most Valuable Player award Tuesday, but he would have gotten 83 if Cavaliers small forward LeBron James had cast a ballot.
“I’ve always said since two or three years ago that Kobe Bryant is the best player in the league,” James said Tuesday at TD Banknorth Garden prior to Game 1 of a best-of-seven playoff series with the Boston Celtics. “He’s been the best player in the league the last five, six, seven years.”
In winning the award for the first time in his illustrious 12-year career, Bryant totaled 1,100 points in balloting done by media members nationwide. New Orleans guard Chris Paul was second with 894, with Boston’s Kevin Garnett third with 670 and James fourth with 438.
Paul got 28 first-place votes, Garnett got 15 and James received only one. The 6-foot-8, 250-pound James also received seven second-place votes, 28 third-place votes, 77 fourth-place votes and eight fifth-place votes.
“All three of those guys’ records were a lot better than ours, and not just by a little bit,” Cleveland coach Mike Brown said. “I’m sure that had a little to do with it.”
Bryant led the Lakers to 57 regular-season wins and the top seed in the Western Conference playoffs, while Paul’s Hornets were second with 56 victories. Garnett helped the Celtics to an NBA-high 66 wins, while the Cavaliers won just 45 games — five fewer than they won a year ago.
“(Bryant) is a great player,” Brown said. “I’m a little shocked this is the first time he’s won it. He’s just as deserving as LeBron, (but) I’m a little biased.”
James’ individual numbers (an NBA-high 30.0 scoring average, 7.9 rebounds, 7.2 assists) were better than Bryant’s (28.3, 6.3, 5.4), but the Lakers star had better statistical years in previous seasons and didn’t win the award, largely because the Lakers didn’t win enough games.
James was fifth in the MVP voting last year, behind winner Dirk Nowitzki of Dallas, Phoenix’s Steve Nash, Bryant and San Antonio’s Tim Duncan. The 23-year-old was second to Nash in 2006 and sixth in 2005, his second year in the league.
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