LeBron James is getting his fourth Most Valuable Player award — and the only mystery left is whether the vote was unanimous.
The Miami Heat star will be introduced Sunday as the award winner, according to a person familiar with the results and who spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because the league has not publicly announced this year's recipient. James will become the fifth player with at least four MVP awards, joining Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Michael Jordan, Bill Russell and Wilt Chamberlain.
No one has ever swept every first-place vote in the NBA's MVP balloting. After the season he had, James could be the first.
"I don't know who else you'd vote for," Heat forward Chris Bosh said Friday. "No offense to everybody else, but that's just how good he has played this year."
James averaged 26.8 points, 8.0 rebounds and 7.3 assists this season, shooting a career-best 56 percent. It was absolutely no surprise that he won the award, and given the timetable for Miami's next game — the Heat don't open Eastern Conference semifinal play until Monday night against Brooklyn or Chicago — it had been widely assumed for several days that Sunday would be the day.
If tradition holds, NBA Commissioner David Stern will then present James with the trophy again Monday night in front of the Miami fans.
"I absolutely have not even thought about it," James said earlier this week when asked if he considered the weight of winning the award four times in five years. "I have not thought about it, until you just brought it up. I know the history. It would be a unique, unbelievable class I would be a part of, so we'll see."
Only Russell had won four MVPs in five years, and only Abdul-Jabbar had gone back-to-back on the award twice. Abdul-Jabbar has six MVPs in all, Jordan and Russell have five apiece and Chamberlain won four.
James won the award in 2009 and 2010, only got four first-place votes in 2011 — his first season with the Heat — then reclaimed the award last season.
"The other day I was sitting there with him, a week or two ago and it dawned on me," Heat guard Dwyane Wade told the AP. "I said to him, 'Do you know you're about to get four MVPs in five years?' And he's like, 'Man, I'm just a kid from Akron.' He could have gotten five in five. You know how crazy that is? This is crazy."
The "kid from Akron" is truly entering rarefied air now.
It's certain that stars like New York's Carmelo Anthony, Oklahoma City's Kevin Durant and the Los Angeles Lakers' Kobe Bryant will be listed on ballots — the league will unveil the full results Sunday — though the only drama left is seeing if any voter thought someone had a better season than James. A panel of writers and broadcasters from the United States and Canada vote for NBA awards. There also is one combined vote from fans who chose an MVP through online balloting or social media.
There have been instances of people coming close to sweeping the first-place votes. Shaquille O'Neal got 120 of the 121 top votes cast after the 1999-2000 season, with Allen Iverson getting the lone other one that year. And after the 2003-04 season, Kevin Garnett — then with Minnesota — got 120 of 123 votes, with two going to Jermaine O'Neal and the other to Peja Stojakovic.
"Do the right thing," was Heat forward Shane Battier's suggestion to voters, just before the ballots were due.
James finally got his first NBA championship last season, followed that up by helping the U.S. win a gold medal at the London Olympics, and then vowed to come back this season even better.
The Heat say he did absolutely that. With nary a sign of a championship hangover, Miami went 66-16 in the regular season, including a 27-game winning streak, the second-best in NBA history. And since Feb. 3, when James plays, Miami is 36-1.
"We're all in unison: We think he has earned it," Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. "He has had an even more historic season than last year. The beauty of that, if he does in fact earn it, is the fact that probably most people didn't necessarily think he could go to a different level, a higher level, after last season. Yet he reinvented himself and showed that he could."
Forget that it's rare in the NBA to win the MVP award four times. It's rare in major sports, period.
In baseball, Barry Bonds is the lone member of the four-or-more-MVP club, winning seven. In hockey, it's Wayne Gretzky with nine, Gordie Howe with six and Eddie Shore with four. In the NFL, only Peyton Manning has four MVPs.
"We never take him for granted," Spoelstra is fond of saying about James.
When comparing James' per-game averages this season against the best years in NBA history, only Jordan, Oscar Robertson, Larry Bird and John Havlicek had ever averaged so much in points, rebounds and assists per game as the reigning NBA Finals MVP did in each of those categories this season, according to STATS LLC. And none had ever done so while shooting such a high percentage — Jordan did it while shooting 54 percent, coming closest.
James' effective field goal percentage (a metric that takes into account 3-pointers being worth more than 2-point shots) this season was a career-best 60.3 percent, and he shot just over 40 percent from 3-point range, another career mark. The league handed out six Eastern Conference player-of-the-month awards this season, and James won five of them.
"I can see why he loves to play the game," Wade said. "He can do anything he wants."
Boston Celtics coach Doc Rivers said near the end of the regular season James — who also finished second in voting for this season's defensive player of the year award — might win this award many, many more times.
"There's not a better player in the NBA than LeBron and he should win every year," Rivers said. "He should win in a landslide. There are guys who had great years. Carmelo's had an amazing year and so has Durant. But there's no one that's had the year that LeBron has when you figuring in rebounding, defense, everything, passing. And we're going to be saying that until someone else comes along and takes the mantle. I don't see that happening."
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