Talk about Michael Jordan's being the NBA's Most Valuable Player this season is already simmering on the back burner and may soon be moving to the front. Even the real MVP to this point, the Nets' Jason Kidd (page 58), has said Jordan should be considered a contender, and I suppose that's right. Yet as glorious as Comeback II has been at times, and as much a sentimental favorite as he is, I don't see Jordan, to this point, as deserving.
One of the common ways to determine if a player is an MVP candidate is to hypothesize about how execrable his team would be were he not on it. Take Jordan off this year's Wizards, and what you have is last year's Wizards, a team that won 19 games, the same number Washington won in less than half of this season with ol' Baldy in the lineup. For me, though, that isn't enough. Remove scoring machine Nick Van Exel from the Nuggets (which Denver, incidentally, might be looking to do), and they'd likely be the worst team in the NBA. Take gunner Ron Mercer off the Bulls, and they probably would have no more than two wins instead of the eight they had through Sunday.
My key determinant is that an MVP candidate must lift his team to the upper echelon of the league. That's what made Allen Iverson, who dragged a band of underachieving Sixers into the Finals last summer, so worthy. I loved Cubs second baseman Ernie (Let's Play Two) Banks but consider his winning two MVP awards questionable because the best Banks could do was take Chicago into the middle of the pack. Jordan's lifting of the Wizards to third place in the Atlantic Division is commendable, but they're still only the 16th- or 17th-best team in the NBA.
To put my definition of an MVP another way: Game in and game out, despite a target on his back, he performs at a consistent level of excellence that leads to a consistent level of excellence for his team. That's Kidd; that's center Tim Duncan of the Spurs; that's forward Kevin Garnett of the Timber-wolves; that's center Shaquille O'Neal and shooting guard Kobe Bryant of the Lakers.
Jordan has had too many messy 7-for-21 and 13-for-30 nights to qualify as MVP. He may have more pressure—and a brighter spotlight—on him than any other player in basketball, and the demands on his 38-year-old body are extraordinary. Yet similar burdens weigh on all MVP candidates, and so far Jordan hasn't borne them well enough to get my vote.