The best NBA MVP seasons ever are truly sensational years on a statistical level. The NBA MVP award is known as the Maurice Podoloff Trophy in honour of the first NBA Commissioner (then President) and it has been awarded every year since it was given to Bob Pettit of the St. Lewis Hawks at the end of the 1955-56 NBA season.
Best NBA MVP seasons ever
It is an award that any true great of the game needs one of (if not multiple of) to establish a legacy and here we look at these NBA award winners and pick out the greatest NBA MVP seasons of all time.
Stephen Curry, 2015-16
If the mark of an elite season when winning the Maurice Podoloff Trophy is team success, then this season by Stephen Curry has to be on the list. The Golden State Warriors won an NBA record 73 games during the 2015-16 season finishing 73-9 with a young, deep, and talented roster that was led by the mercurial Curry.
His worth is best measured by the fact that the Warriors were outscored by 5.4 points per 100 possessions with Curry not on the floor. His three-point shooting was insane, with Curry setting an NBA record with 402 made triples at a rate of 45.4% from behind the arc.
Curry’s efficiency was off the charts, generating a true shooting percentage of 66.9%, the highest ever in a season from a player with at least 1,000 field goal attempts. He was the first unanimous NBA MVP after putting together the greatest offensive season ever.
Russell Westbrook, 2016-17
The second player ever to register a triple-double for an entire season (more on that below), Russell Westbrook was a statistical machine over the course of the 2016-17 season. He averaged 31.6 points per game, 10.7 rebounds per game, and 10.4 assists per game.
Westbrook broke the record for triple-doubles in a single season with 42, all while playing an astonishing 81 of the 82 regular-season games in an era where load management before the playoffs was in full effect.
Oscar Robertson, 1963-64
A 6-foot-5 point guard at a time where players of that size didn’t exist, Oscar Robertson was a 12-time All-Star who only won one NBA MVP award. That award came at the end of the 1963-64 season, a season where Robinson was just 0.1 rebounds per game away from recording a triple-double for an entire season for the SECOND time (he succeeded in this rarest of achievements during the 1961-62 campaign).
He averaged 31.4 points per game, 11.0 assists per game, and 9.9 rebounds per game, finishing second in scoring and first in both assists and free throw percentage. Robertson AVERAGED a triple-double over his first five years in the league and might have been the greatest fantasy NBA player of all time.
Allen Iverson, 2000-01
While Curry was the core of an amazing team that used all its parts to post the best record in league history, Allen Iverson‘s MVP season in 2000-01 was entirely on his own back. Iverson led the Philadelphia 76ers to 56 wins and the top seed in the Eastern Conference, leading the NBA in scoring with 31.1 points per game and second in steals (2.5 per game) and free throws made.
Iverson was generously listed as 6-foot tall and 165 pounds, yet he scored 40 points in 15 different games during December and January. He was the Sixers only offensive scoring threat, yet no team could figure out a way to stop the diminutive scorer when he got hot. This season, he was the hottest he would ever get.
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, 1971-72
It had to be expected that one of Kareem Abdul-Jabbar‘s six MVP seasons would make it onto this list of NBA award winners. The former Lew Alcindor was so good in college that they banned dunking to stop his dominance and Kareem’s second MVP win at the end of the 1971-72 season was his best work.
The 24-year-old was at the height of his physical powers and he led the NBA in scoring with a career-best 34.8 points per game, was second in the league in rebounding at 16.6 rebounds per game, and likely led the league in blocks (a stat that wasn’t tracked for a couple more seasons). His skyhook was unstoppable and Milwaukee won 63 games this season.
Michael Jordan, 1995-96
It is hard to believe that this MVP season for Michael Jordan came after he took two years out of the game. Jordan missed the entire 1993-94 season, came back for a cup of coffee (17 games) in 1994-95, then decided to once again take over the game starting with this 1995-96 campaign.
The Bulls went 41-3 (yes, you read that right) to start the season (they finished with 72 wins), with Jordan finishing the year with 30.4 points per game, 6.3 rebounds per game, 4.3 assists per game, and 2.1 steals per game. Jordan’s competitiveness is legendary and his drive to be the best once again was strong enough that returning at 33-years-old he cruised to his fourth MVP award.
LeBron James, 2012-13
LeBron James was outstanding in Cleveland, but it was his 2012-13 season with the Miami Heat that really showcased the player he had developed into. Their 66 wins were six more than anyone else in the league and LeBron was a massive part of that as he turned his dominant scoring into dominant efficient scoring.
He hit 60.2% of his two-point shots while also going over 40% for the season from behind the arc. He averaged 26.8 points per game in the regular season (and 25.9 points per game in the playoffs) as the Heat won their second straight NBA Title. His fourth MVP season was his most dominant year in the league.
Wilt Chamberlain, 1959-60
Opposition coaches and players had no idea how to handle Wilt Chamberlain when he entered the NBA in 1959. He broke eight separate records that first season and while his points per game of 37.6 were ridiculous, it was his rebounding that made this one of the greatest NBA MVP seasons of all time.
Wilt the Stilt lived up to his nickname AVERAGING 27.0 rebounds per game. That number was unheard of then and in the modern era the league leader can expect to finish averaging 15.0 in a strong season.
The Philadelphia Warriors finished 49-26, with Wilt leading the league in minutes played as the rookie excelled in a game where the pace of play and total possessions were much higher than what we see today.
Shaquille O’Neal, 1999-00
Shaq became such a massive figure over the years in the NBA and has such a personality post-retirement, that it is way too easy to forget just how good he was at his peak. O’Neal’s 1999-00 season was the first time a player fell short of unanimous MVP selection because he was that much better than everyone else in the league over the course of that season.
He led the league in scoring at 29.7 points per game, field goals, and field goal percentage, while also leading the league in free-throw attempts as he bullied his way to and-one opportunities on seemingly every possession.
He also finished second in total rebounds with 13.6 per game and third in blocks per game as he established himself as the best two-way player in the league. The Lakers finished 67-15 despite O’Neal’s inability (52.4%) from the charity stripe.
Michael Jordan, 1987-88
There is plenty of debate about the position of most of the seasons on this list and their rank within the top 10. There is no debate, however, about the No. 1 spot when looking at the best MVP seasons ever.
It is only fitting that the greatest NBA player of all time would put that season together either. In his fourth NBA season, Michael Jordan took over.
He led the league in scoring at 35 points per game, almost five points more than anyone else. He shot 53.5% from the field, leading the league in field goals, free throws, and steals. Jordan was also Defensive Player of the Year, setting an NBA record for blocks by a guard with 131 as the Bulls went 50-32. There was no NBA Title (they would come later) but Jordan remains the only player ever to win the scoring title and Defensive Player of the Year in the same season. Remarkable.