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•The Captain-of-the-Ship Factor. The MVP should keep his team on a steady and true course by making his teammates better players on the court and by holding them together off it. True, that is a difficult quality to measure, but it is of crucial importance.
And, so, in alphabetical order, here are the leading candidates:
Charles Barkley, Philadelphia. He is eighth in the league in scoring (26.0), third in rebounds (12.4) and tied for second in field goal percentage (.574), with Boston's Robert Parish. He has brought the Sixers (42-33 at week's end) back to perfect fast-break pass from Stockton; in fact, in that situation no opponent even wants to be on the same court.
Akeem Olajuwon, Houston. With averages of 24.9 points, 13.3 rebounds, 3.3 blocked shots and 2.7 steals. Olajuwon joins Jordan as the only players in the top 10 in four of the eight major statistical categories. He is the first player in NBA history to get 200 steals and 200 blocked shots in one season. He likes the bright lights and the big city, too. In two games against the Knicks and Ewing, he averaged 28.5 points and 20.5 rebounds. (In five lifetime games in Madison Square Garden, Olajuwon has averaged 30.0 points. 21.4 rebounds. 3.0 blocks, 3.0 steals.) His all-around ability-speed, body control, strength, jumping-has seldom been seen in a center.
CONCLUSION: It would have been nice to recognize Olajuwon's individual accomplishments by making him the No. 1 choice for the MVP award. But the word "pass" is still not in his dictionary, and some of his biggest games came in Rocket losses. Put him sixth.
It would have been great to reward Barkley, about whom Knick coach Rick Pitino says, "If people would stop considering him a character, he would go down as one of the greatest all-around talents in the history of basketball." But his Sixers will finish seventh in the Eastern Conference, and the image of Barkley as "captain of the ship" still does not come into focus. Put him fifth.
A nod of approval to Ewing, whose work ethic fuels the Knicks as much as their full-court press and three-point shooting does. But does he deserve to be MVP more than Olajuwon? No; put him fourth.
It would have been pleasant to assure Utah that its main man, Malone, is not being overlooked because he plays away from the nation's media centers. We want the Mailman on our team, no matter which forwards are available. But he could not lift the Jazz above the Suns or the Lakers in the West (granted, he could still do it in the playoffs), and anyway he must divide his own team MVP pie with Stockton in some fashion, even if it's a 65-35 split. Put him third.
And so it's down to, yes, M & M.
Once he was moved to the point, was there anything more that Jordan could have done to chip away at the one criticism of his game, namely that he doesn't make his teammates better? (Shake your head no.) Is there any area in which he could have improved this season? (No again.)