The NBA’s MVP award is given to the best player in the league during a particular season. Usually, the players who win the award are those that are in their prime but in the history of the league, there have been players who have won the award late during their careers.
We saw a rise of this old MVPs during the 90s when Michael Jordan and Karl Malone alternated wins in four consecutive seasons. Jordan even won the award in his final season with the Chicago Bulls in 1998 while Malone became the oldest player to win the award in 1999.
Let’s take a look at the oldest MVPs in the history of the NBA:
Karl Malone 1998-99 (35)
Despite losing back to back NBA Finals to the Chicago Bulls, Karl Malone still had plenty left in the tank the following season. The 1999 season was delayed for four months due to the lockout and the Jazz started the season with a 19-4 start and had an 11-game winning streak in April. They would finish with the best record in the league at 37-13.
Malone demanded a trade before the start of the season but eventually ended up playing for the Jazz five more years. He averaged 21.8 points, 11.3 rebounds, 4.7 assists, and 1.2 steals per game to win his second MVP award, becoming the oldest player in the history of the league to win such honors at the age of 35. The Jazz though were declining and they lost in the Western Conference semifinals to the Blazers.
Michael Jordan 1997-98 (34)
After a 33-year old Karl Malone won MVP in 1997, a 34-year old Michael Jordan won the award in 1998. This was the last year of the Bulls dynasty as the team announced that this season would be Phil Jackson’s final one as their head coach. Jordan had previously stated that he would not play for another coach. But the Bulls kept their focus in their Last Dance.
The Bulls would win the NBA title for a third consecutive year, beating the Jazz again in the NBA Finals. Jordan was named All-Star game MVP and NBA Finals MVP after averaging 33.5 points per game in the Finals including 45 points and the title-clinching basket in Game 6. Jordan would be named as league MVP for the fifth and final time. He would retire for the second time at the end of the season.
Karl Malone 1996-97 (33)
After winning a second gold medal in the 1996 Olympics, Karl Malone had a dominant season in 1996-97. The Mailman averaged 27.4 points and 9.8 rebounds per game while leading Utah to a franchise-best 64-18 record. The Jazz would earn the top spot in the Western Conference and they would go all the way to the NBA Finals where they met Michael Jordan’s Chicago Bulls.
Jordan would lead the Bulls to win Games 1 and 2 but Malone willed the Jazz to back to back wins in Salt Lake City as they tied the series. However, Chicago would win the next two games to hand the Jazz the first of two Finals losses. Despite that, Malone would go on to be named as the MVP for the first time in his career at the age of 33. It wouldn’t be his last though.
Michael Jordan 1995-96 (32)
1996 was the Chicago Bulls’ most dominant season ever. The team got a boost after acquiring Dennis Rodman from the San Antonio Spurs during the offseason. They started the season winning their first 37 games at home en route to a then league-record 44 consecutive wins at their home floor. The Bulls would finish the season with a record of 72-10, the best in the NBA during that time.
Michael Jordan was motivated after losing in the playoffs the previous year and he trained hard during the offseason. He would go on to lead the league in scoring at 30.4 points per game and win All-Star game MVP honors. The Bulls raced to a 41-3 start and were dominant from start to finish. MJ would win his fourth MVP award at the end of the season as the Bulls won their 4th NBA title.
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar 1979-80 (32)
The 1979-80 season saw the birth of the Showtime era in Los Angeles with the Lakers drafting Magic Johnson with the 1st overall pick of the 1979 NBA draft. But while Magic was special right from the start, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar was still the main man in Hollywood.
Abdul-Jabbar averaged 24.8 points, 10.8 rebounds, 4.5 assists, and a league-leading 3.4 blocks per game. He played all 82 games that year and the Lakers finished the regular season with a record of 60-22. They would go on to defeat the Philadelphia 76ers in six games during the 1980 NBA Finals. Jabbar would win his sixth NBA MVP award at the end of the season, giving him more MVP awards than any player in the history of the NBA.
Steve Nash 2005-06 (31)
After a spectacular first season with the Suns, Nash had an encore in 2006. The Suns lost Amar’e Stoudemire to a serious knee injury, traded Joe Johnson and Quentin Richardson, and were not expected to replicate their feat in 2005. But with Nash directing the offense, the Suns were once again the highest-scoring team in the league with seven players averaging in double figures.
Nash earned his first All-Star start in 2006 and he led the league in assists for the second straight season with 10.5 dimes per game. He was also the best free-throw shooter in the league at 92.1% from the foul line. Aside from those, he also established career-highs in points at 18.8 per game and rebounding at 4.2 per contest. Nash would earn his second consecutive MVP award but the Suns would lose to the Dallas Mavericks in the Western Conference Finals.
Hakeem Olajuwon 1993-94 (31)
During Michael Jordan’s first retirement, the Houston Rockets ascended as the top team in the NBA. Houston won back to back titles in 1994 and 1995 behind Hakeem Olajuwon, the man drafted 1st overall in 1985 when Jordan was picked third by the Bulls. In 1994, the Rockets won the first-ever NBA title by defeating the New York Knicks in a series that went the full seven-game route.
Olajuwon had a spectacular season. He became the only player to win MVP, Finals MVP, NBA championship, and Defensive Player of the Year in the same season. He also became the first foreign-born player to be named NBA MVP. During the NBA Finals, he outplayed longtime rival, Patrick Ewing, by averaging 26.9 points on 50% shooting.
Wilt Chamberlain 1967-68 (31)
Wilt Chamberlain’s fourth and final MVP award came in 1968 after another monster season. Chamberlain averaged 24.3 points and 23.8 rebounds while becoming the first and only center in the history of the NBA to lead the league in assists with 702 for the season. He also became the first player in NBA history to score 25,000 points that year.
The Sixers would end up having the best record in the NBA for the third straight season. Philly would lose Billy Cunningham to injury in the first round and they would become the first team in NBA playoff history to blow a 3-1 lead during their second-round loss to the Boston Celtics. This would prove to be Wilt’s final year in Philly as he would be traded after the end of the season to the Lakers.
Steve Nash 2004-05 (30)
During the offseason, Steve Nash joined a team that went 29-53 the previous year and were expected to have another losing season. Mike D’Antoni utilized Nash’s strengths by employing an up-tempo style of play. The Suns finished the season with the best record in the league at 62-20 and Nash would have his best year ever.
The Suns would average 110.4 points per game, the highest in the league in the last 10 years. Nash averaged 11.5 assists per game and made 53% of his field-goal attempts and 43.1% of his three-pointers. He would edge out Shaquille O’Neal to become the first Canadian to win NBA MVP and the third point guard after Oscar Robertson and Magic Johnson to receive such honors.
Magic Johnson 1989-90 (30)
The Los Angeles Lakers won back to back NBA titles in 1987 and 1988 and they were looking to rebound after losing to the Detroit Pistons in the 1989 NBA Finals. However, the Lakers lost Kareem Abdul-Jabbar to retirement during the offseason and Magic Johnson was a year older. Los Angeles would miss making the Western Conference Finals for the first time in nine seasons as they would get upset by the Phoenix Suns in round two.
Magic Johnson won his third MVP in four seasons after averaging 22.3 points, 6.6 rebounds, and 11.5 assists per game. He edged out Charles Barkley 636-614 in the voting despite getting only 27 first-place votes compared to Barkley’s 38. At the end of the season, Pat Riley would resign as head coach, in what was the beginning of the end for the Showtime era.
Julius Erving 1980-81 (30)
Julius Erving was Michael Jordan before Michael Jordan arrived. Dr. J was a playground legend and one of the most exciting players in NBA history. The Doctor of Dunk started his career with the ABA and was a three-time ABA MVP. He was bought by the Sixers when the Nets joined the NBA in 1977 and he quickly became the leader of the team.
Erving would lead the team to the title in 1983 and several playoff runs before that. In 1981, Erving averaged 24.6 points, 8.0 rebounds, 4.4 assists, and 2.1 steals per game. The Sixers finished the season with a 62-20 record but blew a 3-1 lead in the Eastern Conference Finals and lost to the Boston Celtics in seven games. Erving would win his only NBA MVP that season.
Wilt Chamberlain 1966-67 (30)
Wilt Chamberlain led the Sixers to a 46-4 start which remains the best start to an NBA season. They finished the season with a 68-13 record which was the best regular-season record at that time. Philadelphia defeated the Boston Celtics in the Eastern Division Finals and ended their 8-year championship streak. They went on to beat the San Francisco Warriors 4-2 in the NBA Finals to win the first of Wilt’s two NBA titles.
With Hal Greer and Billy Cunningham joining the team, Chamberlain took only 14% of the Sixers’ shots. He averaged a career-low 24.1 points per game but led the league in rebounding at 24.2 boards per contest. He was also third in the league in assists at 7.8 dimes per outing, the best average for an NBA center. Wilt also shot a record .683 from the floor and at one point, made 35 consecutive field goals in a span of four games. Because of his remarkable efficiency, Chamberlain won his third MVP award.
Bill Russell 1964-65 (30)
Bill Russell was a five-time MVP who led the Boston Celtics to 11 NBA titles during his 13 NBA seasons. Russell was the most dominant big man during his era and his Celtics were the first dynasty in the NBA. They won eight consecutive titles from 1959-66. The dynasty won their 7th straight title during the 1964-65 season, defeating the Los Angeles Lakers 4-1 in the Finals.
Russell won his second consecutive rebounding title and his Celtics won a then NBA record 62 regular-season games. Russell averaged 14.1 points, 24.1 rebounds, and 5.3 assists per game. He played in a total of 78 games and had 16.9 win shares. He shut down Wilt Chamberlain in Game 3 of the East Division Finals and contributed 28 rebounds, 10 blocks, seven assists, and six steals in Game 5 of that series.