Coming into the 2020-21 NBA season, a total of 34 different players had won the coveted NBA MVP award with 21 different franchises represented. Both numbers have now changed as Nikola Jokic recently became the 35th player to win the award, giving the Denver Nuggets their first-ever NBA MVP.
So that now leaves eight franchises without a winner. A few on the list aren’t surprising in the slightest, but there are a couple of head-scratchers on there as well.
And just to get this out of the way, four franchises have had a Most Valuable Player, just not in their current city. Bob Pettit won the award twice as a member of the St. Louis Hawks, who are now the Atlanta Hawks. Oscar Robertson won the award with the Cincinnati Royals, who are now the Sacramento Kings. Wes Unseld won his lone MVP with the Baltimore Bullets, who are now the Washington Wizards. And Bob McAdoo won as a member of the Buffalo Braves, who are now the Los Angeles Clippers. And yes, all of these count, so you won’t see those franchises listed below.
So what we’ll do is take a quick look at each franchise that hasn’t yet produced an NBA MVP, while also taking a look at the closest each has gotten. Sounds fun, right?
If this were an ABA list, the Nets wouldn’t be here as Julius Erving won three consecutive ABA MVP awards in the franchise’s final three seasons in the league. But it’s obviously not. The Nets joined the NBA ahead of the 1976-77 season and have had two Rookie of the Year winners (Buck Williams, Derrick Coleman) but no MVP. The closest the franchise has come was the 2001-02 season in which Jason Kidd finished runner-up to Tim Duncan.
The history of the Charlotte Hornets can get a little tricky.
The Hornets joined the NBA ahead of the 1988-89 season but then moved to New Orleans ahead of the 2001-02 campaign. Charlotte was then given an expansion franchise ahead of the 2004-05 season. The team started as the Bobcats but adopted the Hornets name in 2014, one year after the New Orleans Hornets became the Pelicans, at which point the franchise acquired the records, stats, and history of the original Charlotte Hornets. Any records, stats, and history of the New Orleans Hornets belong to the Pelicans. Yeah, I know. It’s a little ridiculous, but that’s where we are.
With all that being said, the closest the Charlotte Hornets have come to an NBA MVP is a fifth-place finish by Glen Rice in 1996-97.
One of the most surprising franchises on the list is the Detroit Pistons, who have had numerous Hall of Fame players over the years. Bobby McDermott won four consecutive NBL MVP awards in the early-to-mid-1940s, but those wins are not recognized by the NBA. One might think Isiah Thomas would have gotten close to winning NBA MVP, but his highest finish was fifth in 1983-84. Dave Bing (1970-71) and Grant Hill (1996-97) were the two to get the closest, each finishing third.
Like the Nets, the Indiana Pacers can claim a few ABA MVP winners but not an NBA MVP. Mel Daniels (1968-69, 1970-71) and George McGinnis were the two ABA winners. One might think Reggie Miller would be the Pacer to get the closest, but he was honestly never a true contender for the award and never finished inside the top five. The closest to winning was actually Jermaine O’Neal, who finished third in 2003-04 behind Kevin Garnett and Tim Duncan.
The Vancouver/Memphis Grizzlies have never had a single player finish inside the top five of the NBA MVP voting, although that may change in the future as Ja Morant continues to improve. The closest was Marc Gasol, who tied for eighth in 2014-15, the same season in which he was an All-NBA First Team selection. He’s still the only Grizzlies player in history to receive that honor.
New Orleans Pelicans
Surely, we don’t need to go through the history of the Pelicans again, right?
Since the franchise’s official history began in 2002, the closest any player has come to winning NBA MVP was Chris Paul, who was the runner-up to Kobe Bryant in 2007-08 when the team was still known as the Hornets. Under the Pelicans name, Anthony Davis was the closest, finishing third in 2017-18 behind James Harden and his future Lakers teammate, LeBron James.
The Orlando Magic have had two runner-up finishers in the NBA MVP race. Unsurprisingly, Shaquille O’Neal was the first to do so in 1994-95, losing out to David Robinson. Penny Hardaway finished third the following season. In 2010-11, Dwight Howard earned his fourth consecutive top-five finish but came in second behind Derrick Rose.
Since the Toronto Raptors joined the league in 1995, they’ve had six different players finish in the top 10 of the NBA MVP voting, the most recent being Pascal Siakam, who came in 10th in 2019-20. The highest finish for a Raptors player came in 2006-07 when Chris Bosh finished seventh.
Stats courtesy of Basketball Reference