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How Long Each NBA King Sat On the Throne

As we know there are many years the MVP of the NBA, is not regarded as the best player in the league. In this article we will take a look back through the entire history of the NBA and which player we consider the best player in the league and how long their reign lasted. It’s based mostly on statistics and historical stature. While it’s somewhat objective we know who won the most MVP’s and many of the years in between when they did not win, they were just as good statistically in the advanced statistics and usually ranked 1st or in virtual ties. It had to be definitive to lose the throne, especially for the all-time greats.

SeasonThe Best Player In NBAAgeTmMVP
2022-23Nikola Jokić27DENJoel Embiid
2021-22Nikola Jokić26DENNikola Jokić
2020-21Nikola Jokić25DENNikola Jokić
2019-20Giannis Antetokounmpo25MILGiannis Antetokounmpo
2018-19Giannis Antetokounmpo24MILGiannis Antetokounmpo
2017-18LeBron James33CLEJames Harden
2016-17Kevin Durant28GSWRussell Westbrook
2015-16Stephen Curry27GSWStephen Curry
2014-15Stephen Curry26GSWStephen Curry
2013-14LeBron James29MIAKevin Durant
2012-13LeBron James28MIALeBron James
2011-12LeBron James27MIALeBron James
2010-11LeBron James26MIADerrick Rose
2009-10LeBron James25CLELeBron James
2008-09LeBron James24CLELeBron James
2007-08LeBron James23CLEKobe Bryant
2006-07Dirk Nowitzki28DALDirk Nowitzki
2005-06Kobe Bryant27LALSteve Nash
2004-05Kevin Garnett28MINSteve Nash
2003-04Kevin Garnett27MINKevin Garnett
2002-03Shaquille O’Neal30LALTim Duncan
2001-02Shaquille O’Neal29LALTim Duncan
2000-01Shaquille O’Neal28LALAllen Iverson
1999-00Shaquille O’Neal27LALShaquille O’Neal
1998-99Shaquille O’Neal26LALKarl Malone
1997-98Shaquille O’Neal25LALMichael Jordan
1996-97Michael Jordan33UTAKarl Malone
1995-96Michael Jordan32CHIMichael Jordan
1994-95David Robinson29SASDavid Robinson
1993-94David Robinson28SASHakeem Olajuwon
1992-93Michael Jordan29PHOCharles Barkley
1991-92Michael Jordan28CHIMichael Jordan
1990-91Michael Jordan27CHIMichael Jordan
1989-90Michael Jordan26LALMagic Johnson
1988-89Michael Jordan25LALMagic Johnson
1987-88Michael Jordan24CHIMichael Jordan
1986-87Michael Jordan23LALMagic Johnson
1985-86Larry Bird29BOSLarry Bird
1984-85Larry Bird28BOSLarry Bird
1983-84Larry Bird27BOSLarry Bird
1982-83Moses Malone27PHIMoses Malone
1981-82Moses Malone26HOUMoses Malone
1980-81Kareem Abdul-Jabbar33PHIJulius Erving
1979-80Kareem Abdul-Jabbar32LALKareem Abdul-Jabbar
1978-79Kareem Abdul-Jabbar31HOUMoses Malone
1977-78Kareem Abdul-Jabbar30PORBill Walton
1976-77Kareem Abdul-Jabbar29LALKareem Abdul-Jabbar
1975-76Kareem Abdul-Jabbar28LALKareem Abdul-Jabbar
1974-75Kareem Abdul-Jabbar27MILBob McAdoo
1973-74Kareem Abdul-Jabbar26MILKareem Abdul-Jabbar
1972-73Kareem Abdul-Jabbar25MILDave Cowens
1971-72Kareem Abdul-Jabbar24MILKareem Abdul-Jabbar
1970-71Kareem Abdul-Jabbar23MILKareem Abdul-Jabbar
1969-70Kareem Abdul-Jabbar22MILWillis Reed
1968-69Wilt Chamberlain32LALWes Unseld
1967-68Wilt Chamberlain31PHIWilt Chamberlain
1966-67Wilt Chamberlain30PHIWilt Chamberlain
1965-66Wilt Chamberlain29PHIWilt Chamberlain
1964-65Wilt Chamberlain28PHIBill Russell
1963-64Wilt Chamberlain27PHWOscar Robertson
1962-63Wilt Chamberlain26PHWBill Russell
1961-62Wilt Chamberlain25PHWBill Russell
1960-61Wilt Chamberlain24PHWBill Russell
1959-60Wilt Chamberlain23PHWWilt Chamberlain
1958-59Bob Pettit26STLBob Pettit
1957-58Bill Russell23BOSBill Russell
1956-57Bob Pettit24STLBob Cousy
1955-56Bob Pettit23STLBob Pettit
1954-55Neil Johnston25PHWNone
1953-54George Mikan29MLNNone
1952-53George Mikan28MLNNone
1951-52George Mikan27MLNNone
1950-51George Mikan26MLNNone
1949-50George Mikan25MLNNone
1948-49George Mikan24MLNNone
Years On The Throne
12Kareem Abdul-Jabbar
10Wilt Chamberlain
9Michael Jordan
8LeBron James
6Shaquille O’Neal
6George Mikan
3Bob Pettit
3Larry Bird
3Nikola Jokić
2David Robinson
2Giannis Antetokounmpo
2Kevin Garnett
2Moses Malone
2Stephen Curry
1Bill Russell
1Dirk Nowitzki
1Kevin Durant
1Kobe Bryant
1Neil Johnston


Obviously, timing matters with all of this. Some players born in different era’s would have been the best player in the league at some point. Others would have been for longer. An all-time great like Tim Duncan was certainly close several times to taking the throne. He just was slightly overshadowed in our opinion by Shaquille O’Neal and Kevin Garnett. It may have only been by a hair in 2003, but given the historical track record of the time, we still believe Shaq was the most dominant player in the world. It was probably the hardest call but to remove a long setting best player it has to be without a doubt in our opinion that someone has taken it. Shaq was still arguably the best player in the NBA. Duncan was still an all-time great and some other years could have been the best player in the league.

Losing the Crown

There are no examples in our opinion other than LeBron James losing the crown later to regain it. Once a King takes the throne they sit on it until they are removed, and no others have made it back. (Michael Jordan walked away) For LeBron though it to a confluence of events, and a Unanimous MVP from Stephen Curry as well as a couple of slump LeBron years individually. With Curry’s 2016 season leading the 73 win Warriors there just was no way to not have him as the best player, regardless if they lost by a few points to the Cavs in 7 games.

Steph Curry changed the game those two seasons, bending defenses. He was injured in those playoffs which contributed to the team’s upset. Overall LeBron statistically had taken a step back in his early 30s as well. He was still not far behind, but he was not the clear best player in the NBA for those 3 seasons.

When Kevin Durant joined the 73 win Warriors and the best player he became clearly the best player that first season on what is likely the best team ever. It’s hard not to rank him as the best in the NBA at that point. Perhaps Curry was still just as good or an even more important player for the gravity he imposed on defense, but he willingly deferred and Durant. Kevin Durant had been in the top two or three best players in the NBA so long it was just his year, especially with LeBron’s slump years.

Return of the King To the Throne

LeBron would return highly motivated in 2017-18, and perhaps the Warriors put it in cruise control. As a team. The Warriors were just so good they could afford to be lazy. LeBron would lead the league in minutes per game and play all 82 games at 33 years old. LeBron would finish that season 1st in VORP, 3rd in PER, 2nd in BPM. James Harden was his biggest competition statistically in the major metrics that season and there is really no competition there.

Nikola Jokic’s Reign

Nikola Jokic has already been the best player in the NBA for the last three seasons. With 2 MVP’s and an NBA championship he is well on his way to building a legacy that could rival many of the all time greats. With his unique old man skill based game it seems conceivable that he could remain the best player in the NBA for another 5 years, possibly more. That would put him in LeBron and Jordan territory. He will only get smarter and while he will lose some athleticism his game has never thrived on that alone. Assuming health, five years may be on the low end of what is possible.


The MVP isn’t always the best player in the NBA. This gives an educated guess at just how many real MVPs each all-time great could have had. It’s a similar concept to individual sports like Tennis or Golf that track weeks at number one and end-of-year finishes at Number one for players’ legacy. Obviously, the era you are in and who your counterparts are will greatly affect this. For the most part, the players who have been the best in the NBA for long stretches are the best players ever though in our opinion and I believe most educated opinions that follow the NBA.

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