Nikola Jokic joins exclusive group of NBA centers to win consecutive MVP awards

The list of NBA centers to claim back-to-back MVP awards is not a long one.

Up until Nikola Jokic pulled off the feat over the past two seasons, it was a Mount Rushmore of sorts: Bill Russell, Wilt Chamberlain, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Moses Malone.

No Shaquille O’Neal. No Hakeem Olajuwon. No David Robinson. And, of course, no Joel Embiid.

The fact that no center had won the award in consecutive seasons — or even multiple MVPs, period — since the early 1980s is an indication of just how much the game has changed over the past four decades. But through Jokic and his MVP foil Embiid, it’s clear a new era of dominant big men is upon us. And the Nuggets’ superstar center is at the vanguard.

Here’s a look at the four centers who preceded Jokic:

Bill Russell, Boston

Bill Russell, left, star of the ...
Bill Chaplis, Associated Press file

Bill Russell, left, star of the Boston Celtics is congratulated by coach Arnold “Red” Auerbach after scoring his 10,000th point in the NBA game against the Baltimore Bullets in Boston on Dec. 12, 1964.

MVP seasons — 1960-61, 1961-62, 1962-63

Cumulative stat line — 17.5 ppg, 23.7 rpg, 4.1 apg, 46.9 true shooting %, 42.1 win shares, 18.6 PER

The greatest winner in American team sports, the 6-foot-10 Russell is one of just three players in league history to win three consecutive MVP awards. The other two: Wilt Chamberlain and Larry Bird.

Of course, the thing that sets Russell apart from everyone else is that his team went on to win the NBA title each year — part of a never-before-seen run of eight straight championships, and 11 in 13 seasons. He also won MVPs in 1957-58 and 1964-65 and was player/coach on his last two title-winning teams in 1967-68 and 1968-69.

Russell’s stat line tells the story of the NBA ‘s transformation from an up-and-down, fast-paced game to the more deliberate, perimeter-based style played today. One can only imagine how many blocks Russell — an absolute wizard on the defensive end — would have accumulated had the NBA actually counted the stat when he played. The fact that Russell was on the NBA’s first All-Defensive team in his final pro season (1968-69) says it all.

Philadelphia 76ers' Wilt Chamberlain (13) ...
File, The Associated Press

In this April 3, 1967, file photo, Philadelphia’s Wilt Chamberlain (13) shoots over Boston’s Bill Russell (6).

Wilt Chamberlain, Philadelphia

MVP seasons — 1965-66, 1966-67, 1967-68

Cumulative stat line — 27.3 ppg, 24.2 rpg, 7.2 apg, 57.4 true shooting %, 63.7 win shares, 26.5 PER

An all-time great by just about any measure, “Wilt the Stilt” was the first of his kind: A skilled 7-footer who could score, facilitate and hold down the paint on the defensive end.

What’s most impressive: Chamberlain’s run of three straight MVP campaigns isn’t even the best three-year period of his historic career (the four-time MVP averaged 44.6 points between 1960-63). That said, he led the NBA in minutes, rebounds and field goal percentage all three seasons, had one scoring title (33.5 ppg in 1965-66) and even led the league in total assists (1967-68) one season, just to prove he could.

Of course, some NBA historians use the latter as an example of Wilt’s sometimes-misguided motivations. That he advanced past his primary rival, Russell, just once and won one NBA title during that period only adds more fuel to that perspective. As does the fact he was traded to the Lakers following his third season in Philly.

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Milwaukee & L.A. Lakers

In this April 30, 1971, file photo, Milwaukee Bucks' Lew Alcindor, who later was renamed Kareem Abdul Jabbar, smiles as he receives congratulations from Baltimore Bullets' Jack Marin (24) after winning the NBA championship in Milwaukee.
File, The Associated Press

In this April 30, 1971, file photo, Milwaukee Bucks’ Lew Alcindor, who later was renamed Kareem Abdul Jabbar, smiles as he receives congratulations from Baltimore Bullets’ Jack Marin (24) after winning the NBA championship in Milwaukee.

MVP seasons — 1970-71, 1971-72 (Bucks); 1975-76, 1976-77 (Lakers)

Cumulative stat line — Bucks: 33.2 ppg, 16.3 rpg, 3.9 apg, 60.4 true shooting %, 47.7 win shares, 29.5 PER; Lakers: 27.0 ppg, 15.1 rpg, 4.5 apg, 3.7 bpg, 58.6 true shooting %, 34.8 win shares, 27.5 PER

The gold standard for consistency and longevity in the NBA, Abdul-Jabbar is one of just two players to win consecutive MVPs twice and with two different teams (LeBron James is the other).

His first two MVP campaigns came with all-time point guard Oscar Robertson as his running mate, the first season ending with the duo holding a championship trophy. Abdul-Jabbar didn’t win another NBA title until 1980-81, when a rookie point guard named Magic Johnson joined the Lakers. The duo went on to win five together and launch an NBA dynasty.

Oddly enough, Abdul-Jabbar’s Lakers didn’t even make the playoffs the year he won his first MVP with the club. But the six-time NBA MVP’s individual brilliance (27.7 ppg, 16.9 rpg, 5.0 apg, 4.1 bpg) was simply too good to ignore. Sound familiar?

Moses Malone, Houston & Philadelphia

In this Tuesday, May 31, 1983 file photo, Philadelphia 76ers Julius Erving, left, and Moses Malone, right, hold the NBA Championship trophy after defeating the Los Angeles Lakers in Los Angeles.
File, The Associated Press

In this Tuesday, May 31, 1983 file photo, Philadelphia 76ers Julius Erving, left, and Moses Malone, right, hold the NBA Championship trophy after defeating the Los Angeles Lakers in Los Angeles.

MVP seasons — 1981-82 (Rockets), 1982-83 (76ers)

Cumulative stat line — 27.8 ppg, 15.0 rpg, 1.5 apg, 1.8 bpg, 57.7 true shooting %, 30.5 win shares, 26.0 PER

Arguably the greatest rebounder the league has ever seen, the “Chairman of the Boards” is the only player to win back-to-back MVPs with two different franchises in NBA history.

Malone claimed his third rebounding title in four years with the Rockets, averaging 31.1 points and 14.7 rebounds per game to claim the second MVP award of his career (he finished with three). But the new ownership group wasn’t interested in paying his $2 million salary, so he was traded to Philadelphia for Caldwell Jones and a first-round pick.

The deal proved to be more than worth it for the 76ers, who lost in the NBA Finals three of the previous six seasons. Malone not only pushed the franchise over the championship hump, he did so in dominating fashion during the famed “Fo’ Fo’ Fo’” playoff run that saw Philly go 12-1 en route to lifting the Larry O’Brien Trophy. The 76ers haven’t won another title since.

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