MIAMI — LeBron James was at his best this season, and the voters tasked with selecting the NBA’s Most Valuable Player took notice.
Every voter except one, that is.
The NBA still does not have a unanimous MVP, though no one has come closer than James did this season. The Miami Heat star was presented with the Maurice Podoloff Trophy for the fourth time in his career on Sunday after collecting 120 of the 121 first-place votes, with Carmelo Anthony of the New York Knicks picking up the lone remaining top choice.
“It was probably a writer out of New York that didn’t give me that vote,” James said. “And we know the history between the Heat and the Knicks, so I get it.”
A panel of 120 sports writers and broadcasters cast ballots in the NBA MVP voting, with a combined online fan vote also being taken into account.
Shaquille O’Neal got every first-place vote but one in the 1999-2000 season, when one person cast his ballot for Allen Iverson — who finished seventh that year. This season, Kevin Durant of the Oklahoma City Thunder finished second, well ahead of Anthony, who was third and didn’t even appear on nine of the ballots cast. James was the only player listed on all 121 ballots; Durant was omitted from two, according to the results released by the NBA.
“Congrats to the king,” O’Neal wrote on his Twitter account.
For months, there really had only been two questions about this season’s MVP race: When will James get the award, and would the results be unanimous? The first of those answers became known Friday, the other on Sunday, and even as he was on the dais to pick up the award the now-four-time MVP quickly started steering all of his attention back to the goal of helping the Heat win a second straight title.
Miami hosts Chicago in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference semifinals on Monday night, when NBA Commissioner David Stern will present James with the trophy, largely just for the benefit of giving Heat fans a pregame reason to cheer.
“My ultimate goal is to win an NBA championship,” James said. “That’s what I was brought here for. That’s why I signed here as a free agent in 2010. It wasn’t to win MVP trophies. It was to win a championship — and win multiple championships — and that’s still my No. 1 priority.”
James averaged 26.8 points, 8.0 rebounds and 7.3 assists this season, leading Miami to a league-best 66-16 record while shooting a career-high 56 percent. Only Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (six), Michael Jordan (five), Bill Russell (five) and Wilt Chamberlain (four) have as many MVP awards, only Russell won four in a five-year span, and only Abdul-Jabbar went back-to-back twice, like James did with trophies in 2009 and 2010 and now again in 2012 and 2013.
Sunday’s ceremony was filled with tributes and even some laughs, like when James’ younger son Bryce posed for photographers on stage while his father was speaking and older brother LeBron Jr. looked on — and when James’ fiancee, Savannah Brinson, appeared on a congratulatory video and called him “Honeybunny.”
“I know you’re embarrassed when I call you that,” Brinson said. “But whatever.”
Over on the far side of the dais, set up on the floor of the Heat home court, James’ teammates roared in hysterics — and Udonis Haslem made sure James knew that they were talking about Brinson’s pet name for her future husband. The 14 other Heat players were dressed casually in team garb, while James donned a dapper suit for the festivities.
As he did on Saturday, a day after it became widely known that the award would be his again, James thanked his teammates.
“I’d rather be sitting over there in shorts and a T-shirt, wondering what the hell they’re joking about, because I want to be a part of that joke,” James said. “And I hate being out of all the jokes. I want to know what was happening, OK, guys? I would much rather be with my guys over there because that’s what it’s all about. Without those guys, this trophy is not possible.”
Much of the ceremony was tinged with emotion.
Brinson’s mother dabbed tears away from her eyes when James thanked his soon-to-be in-laws for what they do for his family. Dwyane Wade (who was 10th in the voting) spoke in a hushed tone on the video, with soft music playing in the background as he told James to “continue to lead this team because we believe in you, so congratulations, Mr. MVP.” James seemed genuinely touched when dozens of students who are part of his “I Promise” educational program chanted for him when the proceedings were complete.
“And all the ones that I’ve observed and I’ve watched and I’ve seen, somewhere they’ve always gotten better,” said Heat President Pat Riley, talking about all the game’s stars that he’s witnessed in his 46 NBA years. “They always got better as their career advanced. And most importantly, they’ve always made their teammates and their team better. In my humble opinion … I think the man that we’re looking at right here is the best of all of them.”
James was the only player in the NBA to lead his team in scoring, rebounding and assists per game this season, had a record six straight games of scoring at least 30 points while shooting at least 60 percent, became the youngest player in league history to break the 20,000-career-point plateau and won five of the six Eastern Conference player of the month awards.
James is now the second player in NBA history to post at least 2,000 points, 600 rebounds, 500 assists and 100 steals in a season twice, joining Larry Bird, who did it three times. The only other player to do it once was Jordan.
“Four now,” Heat managing general partner Micky Arison said. “And more to come.”