It’s not that Luka Doncic doesn’t care about awards. “Obviously, it wouldn’t be bad to win MVP,” he said last week when asked about being the betting favorite for the honor heading into this season. Winning them just seems so inevitable — his Wikipedia page’s “highlights and awards” section already has 22 bullet points — that he feels no need to advocate for himself. He’s won them every year at every level. Why would that stop now?
“Not everyone can say they are MVP,” he said, “but you got to get there, you know? You can’t just have your name mentioned.”
Doncic, however, does pay attention to them. He knew he shouldn’t have been an All-Star starter last season, but he expressed mild frustration behind the scenes when he didn’t receive even one media vote. That year, one in which he was also considered the MVP front-runner, he spent several long months getting back into the high-level physique that makes him one of the universe’s best few players. He was well aware of the spotlight put upon that process, which made it even less enjoyable. The voters shutting him out was a reflection of that stretch, which may well have been the least fun he’s ever had on the basketball court.
And that’s saying something, because what’s most compelling about watching Doncic is his joy. It’s the youthful zeal that oozes from his game when he delights with an inventive pass or toys with a defender using fakes and footwork. It’s that he often seems as surprised as we are when he does the unthinkable. In a sport that can revolve around cold hubris, Doncic’s best moments remind us this is entertainment. He has total confidence in his brilliance up until it happens, but he’s almost bashful once it’s happened.
So yes, Doncic knows he’s considered the MVP favorite. He can easily imagine being the player handed the award next spring. In that acceptance speech, he would probably say something like, “It’s an honor to win MVP when there are great players in this league, and I’m lucky to be one of them.” But it’s not something he’s worried about now. In fact, he doesn’t care about what it would take to win, about what it would look like.
That’s all right. We can do it for him.
The Most Valuable Player award does matter. It’s the highest individual echelon in which we determine greatness in this sport, and why else do we watch this sport if not to witness that? It’s also an award that has seen its measurements change over time; a changing voter base and the evolving conversation about greatness’ definition have affected the award’s qualifications. As it’s still voted for by humans, it’s still susceptible to narratives, just different ones than before.