MIAMI (AP) — Heat forward LeBron James is the NBA’s MVP for a third time, putting him alongside some of the game’s all-time greats.
A person familiar with the decision told The Associated Press that James will be announced Saturday as this year’s winner of the league’s top individual honor, and that he’ll be formally presented with the trophy by Commissioner David Stern on Sunday afternoon before Miami hosts Indiana in Game 1 of an Eastern Conference semifinal series.
The person spoke on condition of anonymity because the league has not announced the results. Late Friday night, the Heat released plans for a 1 p.m. Saturday event on the court at AmericanAirlines Arena so the team and the NBA could “make a major announcement.”
James is winning the award for the third time in four seasons. Only seven other players — Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Michael Jordan, Bill Russell, Wilt Chamberlain, Larry Bird, Magic Johnson and Moses Malone — have at least three MVP trophies.
James said last week that while another MVP award “would be amazing and would be humbling,” it’s not what drives him. In his ninth season, James still has not won an NBA title and it’s clear that, although he wanted to reclaim the MVP trophy, winning a championship is far and away his top basketball priority.
“What I’m all about is team and ever since I was a kid, I was always taught it’s team first,” James told the AP on Friday. “My first time playing basketball, we went undefeated and won a championship and Frank Walker Sr. gave everyone on the team a MVP trophy. Right then and there, I knew that this is what I wanted to do. I wanted to see my teammates reap the benefits as well.”
Abdul-Jabbar won the MVP six times, Jordan and Russell five times each, Chamberlain four times. After this weekend, they’ll be the only players with more than James.
“I think he’s probably as committed as he’s ever been in his career,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said this week, asked to summarize James’ season. “And he’s always been committed. … We all respond to his energy on the court.”
James averaged 27.1 points, 7.9 rebounds and 6.2 assists — making him only the fourth player with those totals in at least two different seasons, according to STATS LLC, joining Oscar Robertson (five times), John Havlicek (twice) and Bird (twice).
Add James’ 53 percent shooting and 1.9 steals per game into the mix, and the club gets even more exclusive. Only Jordan had a season with numbers exceeding what James did this season in those categories — 1988-89, when he averaged 32.5 points, eight rebounds, eight assists and 2.9 steals on 54 percent shooting.
And Jordan wasn’t even the MVP that year, the trophy going to Johnson instead.
“I think LeBron is an MVP candidate every year,” Celtics coach Doc Rivers said last month. “It’s just who he is. He only does everything. So I don’t know what more you can ask from him.
“LeBron, to me, is the favorite every year,” Rivers added. “The years he doesn’t win it, it’ll usually be because people are just tired of voting for him. Statistically, if you go all-around game, I don’t know how you don’t vote for him every year.”
The MVP votes will be revealed Saturday. Oklahoma City’s Kevin Durant was thought to be James’ top competition for the MVP, after winning the NBA scoring title for a third straight season. Chris Paul of the Los Angeles Clippers, Kobe Bryant of the Los Angeles Lakers and Tony Parker of the San Antonio Spurs also had seasons that generated some MVP buzz.
James’ teammates also lobbied for him to be defensive player of the year this season, noting that probably no one else in the league routinely plays four positions on offense while sometimes being asked to guard anyone from a point guard to a center on defense. James was fourth in that balloting.
“LeBron has been unbelievable,” Heat guard Dwyane Wade said before the playoffs. “He’s done it at both ends, every night, offensively and defensively.”
Last season’s MVP, Derrick Rose of the Chicago Bulls, appeared in only 39 of 66 regular-season games this season because of a variety of injuries. His season ended in Game 1 of the Bulls’ first-round playoff series against Philadelphia, when he tore a knee ligament.
Many in the Heat organization thought James should have won the award a year ago as well, when he dealt with constant fallout from “The Decision” to leave the Cleveland Cavaliers as a free agent and sign with Miami, where he, Wade and Chris Bosh formed a “Big Three” that has been celebrated at home and reviled in just about every other NBA arena.
James has said he played more out of anger and to silence criticism than anything else last season. So this season, his mindset changed, with him trying to revert to old ways, first as a superstar-in-waiting at St. Vincent-St. Mary High School in his hometown of Akron, Ohio, then during his seven seasons with the Cavaliers.
It apparently worked.
“I wanted to get back to who I was as a person,” James said.
It’s the first time that the Heat will be hosting an MVP celebration.
Shaquille O’Neal won his only MVP award before coming to Miami, and James won the 2009 and 2010 trophies with the Cavaliers — collecting 225 of a possible 244 first-place votes in those seasons.
The NBA MVP trophy is named for Maurice Podoloff, the league’s first commissioner. Heat assistant coach Bob McAdoo won the award once, for the Buffalo Braves in 1975.
Follow Tim Reynolds on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/ByTimReynolds