LeBron James will join an elite club Sunday when the NBA names him the league’s MVP for the fourth time in his career.
James is expected to be a runaway winner for the award and, after the most dominant season of his career, could become the first unanimous winner of the prestigious individual accomplishment. James will join Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (six), Michael Jordan (five), Bill Russell (five) and Wilt Chamberlain (four) as the only players in NBA history to win the MVP award at least four times.
“I’m a historian of the game. I know the game and these guys paved the way for myself and the rest of us who are now active and play the game every day, so it’s very humbling,” said James, who won the award last season before leading the Heat to its second NBA championship in franchise history.
The Heat will announce the award during a news conference scheduled for 2:30 on Sunday at AmericanAirlines Arena. Similar to 2012, James will give an acceptance speech after being named MVP. The NBA is expected to present James with the MVP on Monday during Game 1 of the Heat’s second-round playoff series against the Chicago Bulls.
Last year, James’ MVP acceptance speech was highlighted with introspection and touching nods of humility after struggling the previous season in the 2011 NBA Finals.
“Any time I’m receiving anything or do some public speaking, no matter if it’s for a foundation event or for an award I’m receiving, I just speak from the heart,” James said. “I don’t bring in no note cards or anything like that. I just talk about my experiences and what I’m feeling at the time.”
Since falling flat in the 2011 Finals, James has known only winning. After being named the 2012 MVP, James won the first NBA championship of his career and was named MVP of the NBA Finals. He then won a gold medal for Team USA in the London Olympics. With little off time between the Olympics and the start of training camp for the 2012-2013 NBA season, James picked up where he left off, but came back even better.
James averaged more rebounds and assists this season than in 2012, but his biggest statistical jump came from three-point range. He connected on 40.6 percent of his 254 three-point attempts. In his 2011-2012 MVP season, James shot .362 from beyond the arc.
“He’s taken his game to another level — reinvented himself, stayed uncomfortable, did not become complacent off of last season’s success,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. “That’s what the great ones do. Thank goodness we have him on our side.”
James made 103 three-pointers this season, giving Miami four players with at least 100 three-pointers in a season for the first time in franchise history. His points total this season (2,036) was the eighth highest of his career, but James’ rebounding total of 610 was just three shy of a career mark set in the 2008-2009 season, the season he won his first MVP with the Cleveland Cavaliers.
James played 81 games in the 2008-2009 regular season, compared to 76 this season. His rebounding average (8.0) this season was a career high.
Always a facilitator of offense, James averaged 7.3 assists per game this season, which was the second-highest assists average of his career. In the 2009-2010 season, James averaged 8.6 assists en route to his second MVP.
“With him, he creates so much attention and he’s so unselfish, that you always have to have your hands ready,” Heat center Chris Bosh said. “He makes the game a lot easier because he can get you easy buckets. I know from him I’ve pretty much gotten all of my points, probably from a pass from him.”
With his MVP a certainty, James’ teammates joked with their leader Saturday before practice about adding even more MVP awards to his trophy cases in years to come.
“I got four and they told me to win 11 more so I could split them up with everybody,” James said.
Eleven more might be a little farfetched, but James, at 28, could conceivably equal and surpass first Jordan and Russell and then Abdul-Jabbar for most MVPs in NBA history.
“I don’t know my ceiling, but I won’t stop trying to improve my game,” James said. “I want to continue to maximize what I have, and I don’t know where the ceiling is or how it is or how close to the top of it I am, but hopefully I can continue to push through it.”
Dwyane Wade, who is suffering from pain in his right knee, practiced for the second day in a row Saturday and is expected to play Monday. After practice, Wade indicated that his knee isn’t healing as quickly as he would like. “I feel better, but it’s always a battle. It’s day by day and that’s all I can do,” he said.