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LeBron James: NBA Finals MVP?

Ryan Denison is the Senior Fellow for Theology at Denison Forum, where he contributes writing and research to many of the ministry’s productions.

He is in the final stages of earning his PhD in church history at BH Carroll Theological Institute after having earned his MDiv at Truett Seminary. Ryan has also taught at BH Carroll and Dallas Baptist University.

He and his wife, Candice, live in East Texas and have two children.

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The Cleveland Cavaliers' LeBron James, left, has his drive to the basket cut off by the Golden State Warriors' Andre Iguodala during the first quarter in Game 4 of the NBA Finals at Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland on Thursday, June 11, 2015 (Credit: Zuma Press/Icon Sportswire/Phil Masturzo)

The 2015 NBA Finals concluded this past Tuesday night when the Golden State Warriors defeated the Cleveland Cavaliers 105-97 in Game 6. Andre Iguodala was named the Finals MVP marking the first time that the award has been given to a player that did not start every game. However, many think that history should have been made in a different way. LeBron James might have played on the losing team but there are few who would argue he was not the series best player. Should that have been enough for him to win the award?

The series was a highly entertaining and closely contested mix of games, which is surprising considering the difference in overall talent each team put on the court. Yet the playoffs didn’t necessarily start that way. After losing Kevin Love to a dislocated shoulder in the first round and Kyrie Irving to a fractured kneecap in the opening game of this series, LeBron James is the only member of the Cleveland starting 5 who began the year as a starter. Meanwhile Golden State played with the same core group of players all season, which was good enough to land them the top overall seed in the playoffs.

The primary reason Cleveland experienced any success was James. He led all players in minutes played, field goals, free throws, defensive rebounds, points, and assists. Golden State guard Stephen Curry may have been the regular season MVP and his team’s best player, despite Iguodala winning the Finals MVP, but he trailed James’ per game averages going into game 6 by 10 points, 7 rebounds, and 3 assists. In short, LeBron James has delivered a historic performance that was unmatched by any other player in the series.

Consequently, many pundits are continuing to ask if he should have been the Finals MVP regardless of Golden State’s victory. The only person to ever win the award in a losing effort was Jerry West back in 1969, the first year in which a finals MVP was named. James was trying to overcome 44 straight years of history that said the award should go to someone on the winning team but many still feel his performance was worthy of that honor.

For context, giving the finals MVP to a member of the losing team is no less rare in America’s other major sports. Bobby Richardson is the only baseball player to win under those circumstances while Chuck Howley’s two interception effort in the Dallas Cowboys’ loss to the Baltimore Colts in Super Bowl V is the only time it has occurred in the NFL. The NHL has been slightly less strict in determining who deserves its MVP, the Conn Smythe Trophy, as five such players have received that distinction in losing efforts. Still, James was far and away the best player in this series. He just happened to play on the second best team. Should that have been held against him?

At its core, the debate is about determining to what extent value is based on outcome. No one can rationally argue that James could have played better in this series or that he was not more important to his team’s success than Andre Iguodala. But does whatever value he added matter if it doesn’t result in victory? The prevailing opinion seems to be no.

Does God value us in the same way? Is our value to our heavenly father tied directly to whether or not we have been successful at fulfilling our purpose in this life? Thankfully, he does not. His grace and mercy is such that he loves us more than we could possibly imagine. Our value to him is secured by the sacrifice of Christ and there is nothing we could do to add to or subtract from it (Romans 5:6-8).

Yet, if that is the case, why don’t we live like it more often? Why do we work to try and earn the grace that God freely gives? It’s often as if we view Christ’s sacrifice as a debt we owe rather than one he paid. That is simply not God’s will and limits what he can do through us. Yes, it is necessary for believers to act according to the Lord’s will and yes some may appear to accomplish more for the kingdom than others, though only God can know what impact your obedience will have according to his eternal perspective. However, our actions do not add to our value but rather demonstrate the value God has already placed in us.

There is nothing you can do today to make yourself more valuable to our heavenly Father and you will be of most use to him when you stop acting like there is (1 Cor. 15:10-11). It can be a hard lesson for us to learn but never doubt that God can do infinitely more through you when you serve him out of gratitude rather than obligation.

Is that good news to you today? If it is, then praise God and continue to live accordingly. If not, then take some time to pray and ask God to help you embrace his grace and empower you to live in the freedom of his mercy. This was one of my greatest spiritual struggles and a battle I continue to fight at times. However nothing has made a greater difference in my walk with the Lord and the same can be true for you today. I pray that it will be.