The Golden State Warriors reclaimed the NBA Championship from the Cleveland Cavaliers with a comprehensive 4-1 series victory this month. Despite the presence of LeBron James for the Cavs, there was a certain inevitability to the Warriors’ success this year after they signed Kevin Durant and completed arguably the strongest starting five ever assembled.
If that result was never in doubt, though, there is still an unresolved competition in the NBA where the winner is far from certain. Who will be this year’s most valuable player in basketball?
When the MVP is announced on June 26, in a glittering ceremony hosted by Drake, the winner won’t be the only one celebrating. The big sportswear manufacturers who poured millions of dollars into “shoe deals” for the league’s biggest stars will also be hoping their man delivers the ultimate bonus on their investment.
So who has got the best kicks in the MVP race – and can they be worn with jeans on the streets of England as stylishly as on those slashing to the basket in the NBA?
Portland Trail Blazers
The point guard was snubbed by the All Star Game selectors again this year and responded by going on a tear, averaging 24.6 points, 7.2 assists and 5.4 rebounds across the final five games of the regular season – personally propelling the Blazers into the playoffs.
Lillard did it all wearing Dame 3 On Tour, his signature shoe by Adidas. For comfort, these rank high thanks to the breathable mesh upper and patented BOUNCE cushion technology. The Blazers’ black and red colourway make them easy to match with your casuals too.
One of the game’s most efficient scorers, despite being a reluctant three-point shooter, DeRozan averaged 27.3ppg this season before his team fell to the Cavs in this year’s playoffs.
He wears his own player exclusive (PE) version of the shoes Nike made for LA Lakers legend Kobe Bryant. His Nike Kobe ADs include hidden details of DeRozan’s upbringing in Compton but the all-white colourway make them easy to wear with just about anything, on or off the sports court.
After being one of the best teams in the Michael Jordan-dominated 1990s NBA, the Jazz have had a long barren spell. Recent years have seen them quietly return to being a real force in the Western Conference, and Gordon Hayward (21.9ppg, 3.5apg, 5.4rpg) is one of the prime reasons for that resurgence.
Hayward wears the shoe formerly known as the Nike Hyperlive. It was rechristened the Nike Zoom Live 2017 as part of a rebranding drive but is still the same great-looking shoe. It’s midfoot strap is a feature not often seen on basketball trainers.
Few people gave the upstart Wizards much of a chance against the Atlanta Hawks in the first round of the playoffs. But the one-man fast break of Wall carried them to a 4-2 series victory. The point guard put his team on his shoulders with a 29.5ppg and 10.3apg average in the series, earning them a tie with the Celtics, which ultimately ended in disappointment.
He wore none-signature blue Nike Kobe ADs through the playoffs because he’s the only big-name player currently without a shoe deal. Wall turned down Adidas’s $7.5million-per-year offer in 2015, believing himself to be worth a great deal more. His latest numbers suggest he could be right.
Golden State Warriors
The MVP in 2015 and 2016 is now regarded as the best shooter the game has ever seen. He led the Warriors to the best record in the NBA during the regular season. While his personal numbers dipped a little this year as he accommodated 2014 MVP Kevin Durant in the starting line-up (a name which would surely have been on this year’s shortlist had he not been cut down by injury), he still posted a stunning 25.3ppg and 6.6apg.
Steph represented Under Armour’s only chance of booting the MVP this year, as their man wears his own signature Curry 3Zero. They are without doubt a basketball shoe – big, brash high-tops in the Warriors’ blue and yellow colours. Great on the court but a little difficult to pull off if you’re a middle-aged accountant.
The smallest man in the NBA is also one of the very best – especially in the decisive fourth quarter of games. In “Isaiah Time”, the 5ft 9in point guard dropped an average of 10.5 points. Boston fell to Cleveland in the Eastern Conference finals in a series made much shorter by Thomas’s devastating hip injury.
Nike Kobe AD make a third appearance in the list, this time with the distinctive green colourway of Isaiah’s Celtics. DeRozen’s white version may be more versatile but bolder dressers may prefer Thomas’s version, complete with gold Nike swoosh.
There were gasps when arguably the best player on the planet didn’t make the final three shortlist for the MVP this season. LeBron is a once-in-a-generation player who, at the age of 32, averaged 33.6ppg, 12rpg and 10apg in this year’s playoffs – the first man ever to record a triple double in the finals.
Nike recognised the King’s marketability back in 2003, offering him a $90million deal before the 2003 draft. He has since signed a lifetime deal believed to be worth more than $1billion, so unsurprisingly, he has his own line of Nikes. No wearing somebody else’s name on his feet for LeBron. He leads the Cavs while wearing LeBron XIVs. They are big shoes for a big man, which would be difficult to carry off if you are not.
San Antonio Spurs
Kawhi is the reason for LeBron’s absence from the final three. Twice defensive player of the year, he has now added one of the most varied and efficient skill sets in the league to his arsenal (25.5ppg). Undoubtedly the best two-way player in the league, in the absence of legendary Spur Tim Duncan for the first time this season, he took San Antonio to the second-best record in the NBA before being cut down by injury in the Western Conference finals against Golden State.
Kawhi’s distinctive claw logo (he has 9.8in-long hands) decorate his Air Jordan 31 PEs. Their white-to-black gradient weave add a little zap to an otherwise conservative colourway. If you’re toying with idea of the LeBrons, these might be the safer option.
In truth, there have only ever been two horses in this year’s MVP race. Shooting guard Harden was moved to be the team’s premier ball handler by coach Mike D’Antoni this season and responded with logic-defying numbers. In any other season his 29.1ppg and 11.2apg season average would have made him a shoe-in (gettit?) for the MVP crown.
Adidas spent $200million signing The Beard to a 13-year deal in 2015 and that is starting to look like a bargain to secure the signature of one of the most recognisable players in the NBA, who also got an additional profile boost from his relationship with Khloe Kardashian. He wears Harden Vol 1 shoes, which are a little too sporty for jeans but come in a range of colours for some versatility.
Oklahoma City Thunder
“Why not?” is the personal motto of the OKC point guard who, in the absence of Durant this season, posted numbers many did not believe were possible. Could he really average a triple double across the entire 82-game regular season…why not? Russ delivered 31.6ppg, 10.4apg and 10.6rpg – the first time it has been done since the legendary Oscar Robinson in 1962.
Russ fancies himself as a fashion icon so it’s no surprise that his Air Jordan 31 Why Not PE show a certain exuberance. Just as Kawhi’s conservative colourway in these shoes reflect his reserved personality, so do Westbrook’s with their elephant-print upper and blasts of orange. A look for only the most expressive fashion followers.