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The Last Dance

How many MVP awards should Michael Jordan have won?

On May 18, 1998, Michael Jordan won the fifth and final MVP award of his career.

There's long been a case made that Jordan should have won even more of them. But how many more?

After finishing sixth in MVP voting in his second season, Jordan either won it or finished in the top three in every other full season with the Chicago Bulls. Here's a closer look into the seasons he didn't win along with a final verdict on how many he should actually have.

1986-87: Magic Johnson

Jordan MVP finish: 2nd

Jordan made his first real MVP push in his third season when he averaged a ridiculous 37.1 points per game, over eight more than anyone else. Above all else, this is Jordan's "one-man band" year, his final season before the arrival of Scottie Pippen and one in which no other Bulls player averaged over 15 points per game. Jordan played in all 82 games while averaging 40 minutes a night and leading the Bulls in both steals and blocks.

MORE: Test your knowledge on "The Last Dance"

Statistically, he was the league's most dominant player and it wasn't particularly close. The problem? Chicago finished 40-42. Winning MVP on a losing team just isn't going to happen, especially right smack in the prime of both Magic Johnson and Larry Bird.

The verdict: They got it right.

1988-89: Magic Johnson

Jordan MVP finish: 2nd

For the second time in his career, Jordan finished runner-up to Johnson. And like 1986-87, it's hard to argue against Jordan's statistical dominance as he averaged over 32 points, eight assists and eight rebounds per game while leading the league in Player Efficiency Rating, Win Shares, Box Plus-Minus, Value Over Replacement Player and every other catch-all stat under the sun.

This is probably Jordan's most prolific all-around season as he spent the final month of the year playing point guard and uncorked 10 triple-doubles in an 11-game stretch preceded by a game against Portland in which he finished with 17 assists and six steals in addition to his typical high scoring load.

Unfortunately for Jordan, the Bulls still simply weren't good enough. They finished sixth in the East at 47-35 and won 10 fewer games than the Los Angeles Lakers, who once again finished with the best record in the West. Had Jordan won, it would have been the equivalent of Russell Westbrook winning in 2016-17 when his sheer statistical production outweighed the Oklahoma City Thunder's sixth-place finish.

Was Jordan the best player? Yes. Was he the MVP? Probably not.

The verdict: They got it right.

1989-90: Magic Johnson

Jordan MVP finish: 3rd

This was a true three-horse race with Johnson inching by both Jordan and Charles Barkley, who actually finished with 11 more first-place votes than anyone else.

In addition to claiming his fourth straight scoring title and leading the Bulls in assists, Jordan also led the league in steals. The Bulls finished 55-27, the second-best record in the East and two games ahead of Barkley and the Philadelphia 76ers. As with previous seasons, Jordan once again reigned supreme when it came to catch-all stats and he split the season series with both Johnson and Barkley.

Benefitting Johnson once again? Team success.

The Lakers yet again finished with the NBA's best record, but this time did it without Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, who retired after the 1988-89 season. MVP voters love narratives more than anything so winning even in spite of Abdul-Jabbar's departure surely created momentum for Johnson to claim his third MVP in fourth seasons.

The verdict: They got it right.

1992-93: Charles Barkley

Jordan MVP finish: 3rd

Barkley arrived in Phoenix after eight seasons in Philadelphia and immediately transformed a good Suns team into legitimate title contenders. Though he had other more prolific seasons, Barkley seamlessly integrated himself and delivered arguably his best defensive season.

But was he better than Jordan?

MORE: The 76 players with a perfect record against Michael Jordan

At this point, MJ was coming off back-to-back MVP awards and back-to-back NBA titles. There's a chance that voter fatigue played a significant role even though Jordan yet again led the league in both scoring and steals with his 32.6 points per game being the most he averaged in any of Chicago's six championship seasons. It's also perhaps why Jordan finished behind Hakeem Olajuwon in voting as well. Also working against Jordan was the fact that the Bulls finished second in the East at 57-25, a full 10 wins fewer than the previous season.

The Bulls weren't as dominant, but the stats - even those available at the time - painted Jordan as pretty clearly the NBA's best player on a team that even with the relative dropoff still finished with just five fewer wins than Barkley's Suns.

The verdict: Jordan should have won

1996-97: Karl Malone

Jordan MVP finish: 2nd

By far the most egregious.

It's almost inexplicable that Jordan didn't win considering the Bulls finished 69-13, tied for the second-best record in NBA history behind only the 72-10 team from the previous season. Had Malone delivered an absolute behemoth of a season, maybe - MAYBE - I could see a world in which the league's leading scorer and league's best perimeter defender on the team's best team doesn't win, but that didn't happen. The Mailman didn't average a career high in any major statistical category and likely benefited from a season-ending sprint in which the Utah Jazz finished 24-2.

The verdict: Jordan should have won

Did MJ deserve all five of his?

Of the five seasons he actually won it, the two which stand out as questionable are 1987-88 and 1997-98.

The former is famous for being the season in which he just won everything: MVP, Defensive Player of the Year and All-Star MVP. And yet the Bulls won "just" 50 games, far fewer than either the Boston Celtics (57) or Lakers (62). It's rather surprising that Larry Bird didn't come closer given he set a career-high for scoring on a first-place team and went 3-1 against Jordan which included a late-season showdown in which he outdueled Jordan 44-39 that would have been fresh in voters' minds.

As with some of the seasons that Jordan lost out to Magic Johnson, there's a strong case to be made that even though he was the "best" player, he may not have been the most valuable.

MORE: Ranking every Michael Jordan playoff opponent

Then there's 1997-98, the season chronicled in "The Last Dance." If there was a season that Malone should have won MVP over Jordan, it's this one. Although Jordan carried the Bulls for long stretches due to the injury to Scottie Pippen, he wasn't performing at quite the same level of effectiveness as his scoring, shooting and passing dipped to their lowest points in over a decade, even as he claimed a 10th and final scoring title. Even if nobody would ever admit it coming off the 1997 NBA Finals, Malone was probably pound-for-pound the more productive player in 1997-98.

All things considered, he earned all five of them. With the possibility of retirement looming at the end of the 1997-98 season and with all of the other noise around Chicago, that final MVP was Jordan's for the taking. And even though Bird's Celtics won more games, Jordan's two-way dominance was so profound that it's hard to take that one away either.

The final tally

In the end, Jordan should have won seven - the five he actually did, plus two more in 1993 and 1997. Though he may have been the NBA's best player for 11 of his full seasons in Chicago, it's hard to make the case that he should have been given the MVP every year.

The views expressed here do not represent those of the NBA or its clubs.

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