One of the most prestigious awards a player can win is the NBA Finals Most Valuable Player Award. It means two things. For starters, it means you were one of the two teams to participate in the NBA Finals. Two, it means that you were the best player in that series. As hard as it is to make the NBA Finals, being selected as the best player also means you likely won a championship.
Outside of Jerry West, winning a title and Finals MVP is the cherry on top for ending your season. It takes a few extra efforts in terms of performance, production, and overall grit. We have witnessed magnificent offensive production as well as defensive specialties with all our winners. Here is every single Finals MVP winner of the past 40 years.
1981-82 – Magic Johnson, Los Angeles Lakers
Stats: 16.2 PPG, 10.8 RPG, 8.0 APG, 2.5 SPG, 0.3 BPG
The Lakers won this series over the 76ers in six games despite the opposition having a player lead all scorers. Not a single Laker scored more points than the 76ers, but the team found a way to come together. Johnson nearly averaged a triple-double and led all rebounders, which included besting the likes of Julius Erving, two times.
1982-83 – Moses Malone, Philadelphia 76ers
Stats: 25.8 PPG, 18.0 RPG, 2.0 APG, 1.5 SPG, 1.5 BPG
When Malone joined the team, he was the missing piece to the puzzle. Malone led all scorers and rebounders in the first three games of the series. That included 27 points and 18 rebounds in Game 1, as well as 28 points and 19 rebounds in Game 3. In Game 4, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar led all scorers, but Malone’s 24 points and 23 rebounds helped the 76ers complete the sweep.
1983-84 – Larry Bird, Boston Celtics
Stats: 27.4 PPG, 14.0 RPG, 3.6 APG, 2.1 SPG, 1.1 BPG
Talk about a historic thriller. You have the Celtics and Lakers, two of the most historic franchises in league history, duking it out over seven games. With the series tied 2-2, Bird scored 34 points and 17 rebounds to help Boston take Game 5. After losing Game 6, the Celtics took Game 7 with both Robert Parish and Bird recording double-doubles. Bird capped off the perfect season of winning regular season MVP and Finals MVP.
1984-85 – Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Los Angeles Lakers
Stats: 25.7 PPG, 9.0 RPG, 5.2 APG, 1.0 SPG, 1.5 BPG
With the series tied 2-2, Abdul-Jabbar scored 36 points in a pivotal Game 5 to help the Lakers win 120-111. The following game, he scored 29 points to lead the Lakers past the Celtics and capture the championship. He also led the Lakers in rebounding in Games 2 and 3, both wins by the Lakers.
1985-86 – Larry Bird, Boston Celtics
Stats: 24.0 PPG, 9.7 RPG, 9.5 APG, 2.7 SPG, 0.3 BPG
Hakeem Olajuwon and Ralph Sampson were going to be a tough task to conquer. With the help of Bird and Kevin McHale, the Celtics were able to overtake the Rockets in six games. Bird led the Celtics with 31 points in Game 2. In the series clincher, both Bird and McHale teamed up for 29 points to lead Boston to a win. Imagine, if Bird likely grabbed one more rebound and assist here and there, he would have averaged a triple-double.
1986-87 – Magic Johnson, Los Angeles Lakers
Stats: 26.2 PPG, 8.0 RPG, 13.0 APG, 2.3 SPG, 0.3 BPG
In Games 3, 4, and 5, the Lakers saw Magic Johnson play at a superstar level. Johnson led the team in scoring in all three games with points of 32, 29, and 29. In the decisive Game 6, Johnson secured 19 assists and was the only Lakers player to play 42 minutes. In the end, it was another chapter added to the historic Celtics and Lakers rivalry, but it was Johnson picking up another Finals MVP in the 80s.
1987-88 – James Worthy, Los Angeles Lakers
Stats: 22.0 PPG, 7.4 RPG, 4.4 APG, 0.7 SPG, 0.6 BPG
Worthy led the Lakers in scoring in Game 2, but his best performance came in Game 5. Despite 43 points from Isiah Thomas to lead the Pistons, Worthy scored 28 points as the Lakers won 103-102. Then, he closed out the series in Game 6 by leading the Lakers in scoring and rebounding with 36 points and 16 rebounds with a 108-105 win.
1988-89 – Joe Dumars – Detroit Pistons
Stats: 27.3 PPG, 1.8 RPG, 6.0 APG, 0.5 SPG, 0.3 BPG
In the rematch from last season, it was the Pistons that came out on top in a four-game sweep. The Pistons were able to pull out a 108-105 win in Game 2 and a 114-110 win in Game 3. Dumars led the Pistons in scoring with 33 and 31 points respectively. In Game 4, the Lakers overcame 40 points from James Worthy, as Dumars led the team again with 23 points.
1989-90 – Isiah Thomas – Detroit Pistons
Stats: 27.6 PPG, 5.2 RPG, 7.0 APG, 1.6 SPG, 0.4 BPG
The Pistons had a great backcourt with Thomas and Dumar, as evidenced by their consecutive finishes at the top. Thomas led the team in scoring with 33 points in a Game 1 victory, but his best performance came in Game 5. Thomas closed out the Trail Blazers with 29 points in a 92-90 victory to claim their second straight championship.
1990-91 – Michael Jordan, Chicago Bulls
Stats: 31.2 PPG, 6.6 RPG, 11.4 APG, 2.8 SPG, 1.4 BPG
Once the Bulls were able to push past the Pistons, it began a legendary chapter in league history. Jordan captured his championship with a five-game series win over the Lakers. While Scottie Pippen saved his best performance in Game 5, Jordan led all scorers in the first four games of the series. That included a 36-point game in Game 1.
1991-92 – Michael Jordan, Chicago Bulls
Stats: 35.8 PPG, 4.8 RPG, 6.5 APG, 1.7 SPG, 0.3 BPG
Jordan opened the series against the TrailBlazers with back-to-back 39 points games. With the series tied 2-2, he scored 46 points in a pivotal Game 5 and then closed out the series with 33 points in Game 6. The Bulls repeated as champions as Jordan’s points per game average remain one of the highest all-time.
1992-93 – Michael Jordan, Chicago Bulls
Stats: 41.0 PPG, 8.5 RPG, 6.3 APG, 1.7 SPG, 0.7 BPG
Speaking of great scoring averages in the Finals, Jordan’s 41.0 points per game is the record. Jordan kept pace with league MVP Charles Barkley in Game 2, tying Barkley for 42 points to lead all scorers in a Bulls win. Jordan followed that up with 44 points and then 56 points. Jordan’s 56 points are the second-most points scored in a Finals game.
1993-94 – Hakeem Olajuwon, Houston Rockets
Stats: 26.9 PPG, 9.1 RPG, 3.6 APG, 1.6 SPG, 3.9 BPG
With Jordan out of the way, someone else was able to take over in the NBA Finals. Olajuwon paced the Rockets in every single game of the seven-game series against the Knicks. With the Knicks leading the series 3-2, Olajuwon led the Rockets to two straight wins, 30 points, and 25 points respectively.
1994-95 – Hakeem Olajuwon, Houston Rockets
Stats: 32.8 PPG, 11.5 RPG, 5.5 APG, 2.0 SPG, 2.0 BPG
The Finals expected to see a dominant center matchup with Olajuwon and Shaquille O’Neal, but it was all Olajuwon in this Finals. The Rockets swept the Orlando Magic in four games with Olajuwon leading all scorers four straight times. His best games were in Game 3 and 4, where he scored 31 points and 14 rebounds, and 35 points and 15 rebounds respectively.
1995-96 – Michael Jordan, Chicago Bulls
Stats: 27.3 PPG, 5.3 RPG, 4.2 APG, 1.7 SPG, 0.2 BPG
With Jordan back in the league at full strength, the run of the next three-peat was underway. Jordan nearly averaged 30 points again with Gary Payton, one of the best defenders of all-time, on the other side. Jordan was relatively tame during this series, scoring “only” 36 points as his best.
1996-97 – Michael Jordan, Chicago Bulls
Stats: 32.3 PPG, 7.0 RPG, 6.0 APG, 1.2 SPG, 0.8 BPG
This series had a little extra fuel to the fire because Karl Malone was the regular season MVP and he led the Jazz to the Finals. Jordan felt that he deserved the MVP but instead clinched Finals MVP with a six-game series win. Jordan led Chicago in two close wins. In Game 5, his 38 points paced Chicago to a 90-88 win, and then his 39 points paced a 90-86 victory.
1997-98 – Michael Jordan, Chicago Bulls
Stats: 33.5 PPG, 4.0 RPG, 2.3 APG, 1.8 SPG, 0.7 BPG
The rematch featured Jordan and Malone headlining the Finals once again. Jordan led all scorers in the first four games, which resulted in a 3-1 series tie. After a loss to the Jazz in Game 5, Jordan’s 45 points, including the game-winner, in an 87-86 win capped off the three-peat for the Bulls for the second time in the decade.
1998-99 – Tim Duncan, San Antonio Spurs
Stats: 27.4 PPG, 14.0 RPG, 2.4 APG, 1.0 SPG, 2.2 BPG
With a young Tim Duncan paired with David Robinson, the Spurs made quick work of the Knicks in five games. Duncan led the Spurs with 33 points in Game 1. He added 28 points and 18 rebounds in Game 4. In a 78-77 win over the Knicks in Game 5, Duncan led the team in scoring with 31 points to win his first championship.
1999-00 – Shaquille O’Neal, Los Angeles Lakers
Stats: 38.0 PPG, 16.7 RPG, 2.3 APG, 1.0 SPG, 2.7 BPG
After years of coming up short to Michael Jordan, Reggie Miller had his chance in the NBA Finals. Instead, he ran into a buzzsaw in Shaquille O’Neal. Shaq led all scorers and rebounders in four of the six games. In the decisive Game 6, he scored 41 points to cap off one of the best scoring averages in a Finals in NBA history.
2000-01 – Shaquille O’Neal, Los Angeles Lakers
Stats: 33.0 PPG, 15.8 RPG, 4.8 APG, 0.4 SPG, 3.4 BPG
Allen Iverson was the league MVP and led the 76ers to the NBA Finals, but once again Shaq was too much in a seven-game series. Iverson made a case to claim Finals MVP for a losing team as he led the Finals in total points; however, the Lakers made quick work of the team in five games. Shaq might have not scored more points than Iverson, but he did everything, including two 20-rebound games.
2001-02 – Shaquille O’Neal, Los Angeles Lakers
Stats: 36.3 PPG, 12.3 RPG, 3.8 APG, 0.5 SPG, 2.8 BPG
Shaq led the Lakers to two quick wins against the Nets to start the series. He scored 36 points and 16 rebounds in Game 1. He followed that up with 40 points and 12 rebounds in Game 2. Despite sweeping the series, the Nets battled in Games 3 and 4. Shaq had 35 points in Game 3 and 34 points in Game 4.
2002-03 – Tim Duncan, San Antonio Spurs
Stats: 24.2 PPG, 17.0 RPG, 5.3 APG, 1.0 SPG, 5.3 BPG
Duncan led the series in total points and rebounds. What stands out the most was his blocking. He recorded three games with at least seven blocks. In Game 6, Duncan nearly pulled off a quadruple-double. In the win, Duncan scored 21 points, 10 rebounds, 10 assists, and eight blocks.
2003-04 – Chauncey Billups, Detroit Pistons
Stats: 21.0 PPG, 3.2 RPG, 5.2 APG, 1.2 SPG, 0.0 BPG
After a year out of the Finals, the Lakers made their return but were upset by the Pistons in five games. Billups was credited as being the glue that kept the team together. With Billups, Rasheed Wallace, Ben Wallace, Richard Hamilton, and Tayshaun Prince, the Pistons were a complete group, but the true floor general commanding the show was Billups.
2004-05 – Tim Duncan, San Antonio Spurs
Stats: 20.6 PPG, 14.1 RPG, 2.1 APG, 0.4 SPG, 2.1 BPG
The Pistons made a run back to the NBA Finals but were unable to take down the Spurs. Duncan was able to pick apart Ben Wallace as he led the team in rebounding in every game, including all players outright in four of the seven games. In the final game, Duncan led the Spurs to the clinching win with 35 points.
2005-06 – Dwyane Wade, Miami Heat
Stats: 34.7 PPG, 7.8 RPG, 3.8 APG, 2.7 SPG, 1.0 BPG
When the Mavericks raced out to a 2-0 series lead, the Heat needed a hero. That was Dwyane Wade himself. Wade led all scorers four straight games to lead a four-game winning streak to clinch the team’s first-ever title. Wade scored 42 points to help the Heat avoid a 3-0 deficit. Then, he followed that with 36 points and 43 points in a 101-100 win in Game 5. In Game 6, Wade closed out the Mavericks with 35 points in a 95-92 win.
2006-07 – Tony Parker, San Antonio Spurs
Stats: 24.5 PPG, 5.0 RPG, 3.3 APG, 0.8 SPG, 0.0 BPG
LeBron James made his first appearance in the NBA Finals, but it would end up being a learning experience for him. LeBron was swept by the Spurs in four games. Parker led the Spurs in scoring and was awarded Finals MVP despite strong efforts from Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili as well.
2007-08 – Paul Pierce, Boston Celtics
Stats: 21.8 PPG, 4.5 RPG, 6.3 APG, 1.2 SPG, 0.3 BPG
Pierce was a mainstay for the Celtics during the team’s bad years, but many believe that Kevin Garnett was equally deserving of winning Finals MVP. With that said, Pierce led the Celtics in Game 4 and Game 5 with 20 points and 38 points, splitting both games. In-game 6, Pierced added a double-double of 17 points and 10 assists to win their first title since the Larry Bird days.
2008-09 – Kobe Bryant, Los Angeles Lakers
Stats: 32.4 PPG, 5.6 RPG, 7.4 APG, 1.4 SPG, 1.4 BPG
After losing to the Celtics in 2008, Bryant led the Lakers back to the NBA Finals. The Finals could have seen Bryant and LeBron James, but the Orlando Magic made the upset. Bryant got the best of Dwight Howard and the Magic in five games. Bryant scored 40 points in the opening game and then added 32 points and 30 in the final two games. It was Bryant’s first championship without Shaq.
2009-10 – Kobe Bryant, Los Angeles Lakers
Stats: 28.6 PPG, 8.0 RPG, 3.9 APG, 2.1 SPG, 0.7 BPG
Bryant’s second Finals MVP was hard-earned. The Lakers and Celtics pushed the series to seven games. It felt like the days of the 80s. Many like to look at Bryant’s 6-of-23 shooting in Game 7, but his 23 points still led the Lakers in scoring. Bryant also paced the Lakers in earlier games as well, so the voters looked at the complete series as a whole.
2010-11 – Dirk Nowitzki, Dallas Mavericks
Stats: 26.0 PPG, 9.7 RPG, 2.0 APG, 0.7 SPG, 0.7 BPG
When LeBron James and Chris Bosh joined the Heat, everyone expected the team to win. Instead, Dirk Nowitzki led the Mavericks to an upset during a time when LeBron was viewed as a villain. Nowitzki led all scorers in Game 1 and 3, but both were losses. In the other four wins, either led the Mavericks in scoring, rebounding or both to help the team win their first title in team history.
2011-12 – LeBron James, Miami Heat
Stats: 28.6 PPG, 10.2 RPG, 7.4 APG, 1.6 SPG, 0.4 BPG
LeBron James finally got the taste of winning a championship in 2012. Against a Thunder squad headlined by Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, and James Harden, LeBron scored the most points and added the most rebounds in the Finals. His best performance came in Game 3 with 29 points and 14 rebounds. After years of falling short, he finally could call himself a champion.
2012-13 – LeBron James, Miami Heat
Stats: 25.3 PPG, 10.9 RPG, 7.0 APG, 2.3 SPG, 0.9 BPG
Many want to point out Ray Allen’s game-saving three-pointer in Game 6, we often forget that LeBron scored 37 points in a 95-88 Game 7 win. LeBron fell short of leading the series in rebounds, but he did score the most points and add the most assists. LeBron added 32 points in that Game 6 as the Heat were able to come back from falling 3-2 in the series to win their second straight title.
2013-14 – Kawhi Leonard, San Antonio Spurs
Stats: 17.8 PPG, 6.4 RPG, 2.0 APG, 1.6 SPG, 1.2 BPG
Leonard nearly led the team in scoring but was just 0.2 points behind Tony Parker. Leonard shot over 57% from three-point range and was tasked with guarding LeBron James. For his defense and additional scoring, Leonard was awarded Finals MVP despite strong efforts from both Parker and Duncan.
2014-15 – Andre Iguodala, Golden State Warriors
Stats: 16.3 PPG, 5.8 RPG, 4.0 APG, 1.3 SPG, 0.3 BPG
LeBron James led all scorers in five of the six games, which included three 40-point games. Iguodala was still viewed as playing solid defense on James in the series, which helped contribute to his candidacy. Offensively, Iguodala was the team’s second-leading scorer, shot 52.1% from the field, and 40% from three-point range. Steph Curry averaged 26.0 points per game for the series, who was also deserving.
2015-16 – LeBron James, Cleveland Cavaliers
Stats: 29.7 PPG, 11.3 RPG, 8.9 APG, 2.6 SPG, 2.3 BPG
The Warriors won 73 games during the regular season and raced to a 2-0 series lead. After that, LeBron turned it on by scoring 32 points to lead Cleveland to a Game 3 lead. After Steph Curry’s 38 points to take a 3-1 series lead, LeBron helped the Cavaliers stave off elimination with back-to-back 41 point games. In Game 7, LeBron had the game-saving block on Andre Iguodala and the team won their first title.
2016-17 – Kevin Durant, Golden State Warriors
Stats: 35.2 PPG, 8.2 RPG, 5.4 APG, 1.0 SPG, 1.6 BPG
After falling short to the Warriors in the Conference Finals, Durant joined the Warriors in the offseason. Durant helped the Warriors overcome a triple-double average from LeBron in the Finals. Instead, Durant led the Warriors in scoring the first two games and the Warriors never looked back to take the series in five games.
2017-18 – Kevin Durant, Golden State Warriors
Stats: 28.8 PPG, 10.8 RPG, 7.5 APG, 0.8 SPG, 2.3 BPG
Durant won his second straight Finals MVP as the Warriors swept the Cavaliers in four games in the fourth straight year that the Warriors and Cavaliers met in the NBA Finals. Durant erupted for 43 points in Game 3 to lead Golden State to a 110-102 win. That was the closest game in the series as the Warriors won the other three games by double digits.
2018-19 – Kawhi Leonard, Toronto Raptors
Stats: 28.5 PPG, 9.8 RPG, 4.2 APG, 2.0 SPG, 1.2 BPG
Leonard was a playoff hero this playoff. From his game-winning shot against the 76ers to scoring 22 points in Game 6, Leonard will always be entrenched in team history despite spending one season with the Raptors. Leonard was the best two-way player in the series having to guard multiple superstars on the Warriors. Leonard led all scorers in Game 2 and Game 4 and led all rebounders in three of the six games.
2019-20 – LeBron James, Los Angeles Lakers
Stats: 29.8 PPG, 11.8 RPG, 8.5 APG, 1.2 SPG, 0.5 BPG
LeBron won his fourth Finals MVP with his third team this season, leading the Lakers to a series win in six games. In Game 2, LeBron led all scorers with 33 points in a win. Then, 28 points in Game 4 and erupted for 40 points and 13 rebounds in a 111-108 Game 5 to give Los Angeles a 3-2 lead. In the 106-93 win to clinch the series, LeBron led all scorers with 28 points to give the team their first championship since Kobe Bryant 10 years ago.
2020-21 – Giannis Antetokounmpo, Milwaukee Bucks
Stats: 35.2 PPG, 13.2 RPG, 5.0 APG, 1.2 SPG, 1.8 BPG
The Suns raced to a 2-0 lead, but Giannis picked up the slack to lead the Bucks to four straight wins. Giannis helped the team avoid a 3-0 deficit with 41 points and 13 rebounds in Game 3. Then, in Game 4, he rallied the Bucks to a 109-103 win despite 42 points from Devin Booker. Giannis got the best of Booker again in Game 5 with a 123-129 win. Giannis scored 32 points despite Booker leading Phoenix with 40 points. In Game 6, Giannis clinched the series by becoming the seventh player to ever score 50 points in a Finals game with 50 points and 14 rebounds in a 105-98 win.
By KYLE DAUBS