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 Sunday after collecting 120 of the 121 first-place votes. Carmelo Anthony of the New York Knicks took 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 sportswriters and broadcasters cast ballots, 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.
For months, there really had only been two questions about the MVP race: When will James get the award, and would it be unanimous? The first of those answers became known Friday, the other 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 Monday night, when NBA Commissioner David Stern will present James with the trophy.
“My ultimate goal is to win an NBA championship,” James said. “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 in 2009 and ’10 and now again in 2012 and ’13.
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 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 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 Saturday, a day after it became widely known that the award would be his, 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.”
James was the only player in the NBA to lead his team in scoring, rebounding and assists per game this season. He had a record six straight games of at least 30 points while shooting at least 60 percent. He became the youngest player in league history to break the 20,000-point plateau, and he won five of the six Eastern Conference player of the month awards.
James is 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.”