Take Five: Delineating the Qualifications for “M! V! P!” Chant Recipients
Posted by Andrew Unterberger on April 25, 2010
You know the scene. A star player on a home team gets fouled, and as he goes to the free-throw line to take his compensatory shots, the crowd serenades him with the salutatory chant: “M! V! P!…M! V! P!” The implication, of course, is that the crowd is endorsing their franchise player as a worthy selection for the NBA’s Most Valuable Player award. But while these chants may have been more practical in nature once upon a time–it’s hard to say exactly when, where, why or for whom they started, and they might even have their roots in other sports–these days, the award is handed down by adoring crowds with precious little discretion. For instance, during a recent playoff contest between the Bulls and Cavaliers in Chicago, I noticed that Bulls point guard Derrick Rose being the recipient of such a chant. Now, Rose is indeed a fine player, one who has played particularly well this post-season, and one who one day very well may find himself in post-season-award contention. But the kid is just a second-year player who was ineffective and/or injured for half the season and has yet to even make the All-Star Team (whoops, he actually made the ASG this year, though I’m not entirely sure how). In any event, MVP, he is most certainly not.
Now, truth be told, I absolutely love this custom of NBA culture. During the right situation, with the right crowd and the right player, these chants can be absolutely electrifying, the most vocal, emotional and appropriate way for a fanbase to show their true appreciation for their beloved star. But I would like to install some sort of system to ensure that the players receiving these accolades are indeed worthy of such honors. If we keep letting the bar slip lower and lower like this, soon enough they’re gonna be yelling “M! V! P!” at Andray Blatche during Wizards home games. Amusing as that would be, it would cheapen the credibility of the chant far more than I’m comfortable with.
So I have a short list of player categories that, in my opinion, qualify him for the fan-MVP designation. If your guy does not fall into any of these categories, please find a more appropriate three-syllable chant to proffer during his next appearance at the charity stripe.
1. Player is Generally Perceived to Be on the Shortlist for MVP Candidates. The most self-explanatory and obvious category. If a player is generally included in most analysts’ MVP discussions–and I would say that no more than three or four guys a year would fall under this umbrella–then naturally, he would be the most natural recipient for the “M! V! P!” chant. This year, those players would probably be LeBron James, Kevin Durant, and Dwyane Wade–the only three players with even plausible credentials for the award, though most right-thinking individuals would deem James the clear-cut selection. These guys are not only meriting of the chant, they deserve and call out for it, and to not deliver it to them regularly at the appropriate times could be considered a major breach of etiquette on the part of their home fanbase.
2. Player Has Won the MVP Award in the Past and Both Player and Team Still Play at a High Level. You could make the “Once an MVP, Always an MVP” argument, and anyway, the chant is “M! V! P!,” not “THIS! YEAR’S! M! V! P!” Being an MVP is like being an Oscar-winner or a President–it’s pretty much a lifetime designation. That said, I don’t think the chant would be acceptable for a player who either had seen his game drop considerably and was now more of a role player, or a player on a team no longer approaching playoff contention–to shower such a player with this level of praise would not only seem out of place, but possibly downright insulting. So while the chant would still be appropriate for past winners like Kobe Bryant, Dirk Nowitzki and Tim Duncan, I would certainly hesitate to use it on past-their-primers like Shaquille O’Neal or (should he return to basketball) Allen Iverson. No need to rub the glory days being behind them in these guys’ faces.
3. Player is the Obvious Franchise Player on a Top Five Team. Some teams are good enough that it seems almost unreasonable for them not to have a convincing MVP candidate, so much so that the urge to select a de facto recipient is both strong and understandable. If a team is clearly among the league’s elite, it seems only fair to me that they should get to uncork the chant when desired–assuming, at least, that they have at least a semi-plausible choice for the honors. The most obvious example for this season would be Dwight Howard–his offensive game is still a little too raw and inconsistent for him to make a compelling case for the status, but he’s not too far off, and he was the primary reason that the Magic were one of the best teams of the ’09-’10 NBA season. This gets into murkier territory when dealing with teams with two arguable franchise players, such as Phoenix (Steve Nash and Amar’e Stoudemire) or Denver (Carmelo Anthony and Chauncey Billups), since awarding one and not the other could possibly cause tension among the two, and to award both would be both highly impractical and downright paradoxical. In such cases I would probably advise fanbases to avoid the chant altogether.
4. Player is a Huge Disappointment and is In the Midst of a Slightly Less-Disappointing Single-Game Performance. You’re playing with fire by using the “M! V! P!” chant sarcastically, since it no doubt strikes players as twice as barbarous as merely booing them would. Nonetheless, in certain extreme examples of a player consistently letting a fanbase down–due to poor conditioning, sour off-the-court demeanor, or providing just a fraction of the production assumed when he was signed or traded for–it seems pretty justified to me that said fanbase should be afforded that rare pleasure. Imagine if during one of his limited stints for the Knicks last season, Eddy Curry had gone 4-5 from the court during garbage time minutes, and went to the line for the first time with three minutes to go in the fourth. If the MSG crowd would be able to restrain themselves from showering the cap-clogging bench-warmer with a snide, bilious “M! V! P!” chant, well, they’re bigger sports fans than I.
5. Player is in the Midst of a Game That Defines Him as a Franchise Player. Of the qualifications laid out here, this one is the hardest to justify, and the hardest to define. Mostly, though, I’m thinking of a specific example from earlier this season, from a game between the Jazz and the Thunder at Utah’s Energy Solutions Arena. The game had ended up as an OT showdown between the Thunder’s Kevin Durant and the Jazz’s Deron Williams, with both players putting on performances as spellbinding as any other single-contest efforts from anyone else the whole NBA season. Williams’s night was so brilliant that as he stepped to the line for free throws in the overtime period, the crowd poured the “M! V! P!” chant on him with a guttural ferocity that made the stadium feel like a revival tent. I actually got chills watching it–and I couldn’t have been alone, since almost immediately afterwards, everyone jumped on the opportunity to anoint D-Will the NBA’s best point guard, even though just 24 hours earlier, it would have seemed ludicrous to rank him above Steve Nash and especially Chris Paul so unhesitatingly. It might have been the most special moment of the entire regular season. So while Deron didn’t really fit the “M! V! P!” qualifications–the Jazz aren’t a top five team, he only just made the All-Star Team this year, and no one is seriously considering him in the legit MVP discussion–I still couldn’t possibly deny the Utah fans their right to be possessed by the spirit of truly glorious ball like that.