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Has anyone ever won MVP with a losing record?

There have been two instances in NBA history where the Regular Season MVP was crowned, despite their team having a losing record. Bob Pettit of the St Louis Hawks won the first ever NBA MVP in 1955-56 with a team record of 33-39, just 46%. Two decades later in 1975-76 Kareem Abdul-Jabbar won his 4th MVP title and first with the Lakers, as they finished with a 40-42 (49%) losing record. Through 2023 these are the only two instances of a player winning MVP while their team had a losing record. The average MVP has finished the season with a team win record of 72%.

There’s always more to any sports story than just numbers. It’s the drama of it that keeps the fans engaged and coming back for more year after year, despite the heartbreak. So let’s take a look at the stories of the only 2 “losing” MVPs in NBA history.

Bob Pettit 1955-56 MVP Season

The first of Bob Pettit’s 2 NBA MVP titles was in the awards inaugural season. The 1955-56 season saw Pettit’s St Louis Hawks finish with a 33-39 record, winning just 46% of their games, the Lowest ever winning total for a MVP’s team. The Power Forward come Center played in all 72 games and delivered a solid 25.7 point, 16.2 rebound and 2.6 assist stat line. Much like the Finals MVP a decade later being won by a player on the losing team, Jerry West, on its debut season, the first Regular Season MVP was also won in a losing season.

The 1955-56 Hawks tied for the second worst record in the league with the Minneapolis Lakers, who they would defeat in the first round of the Playoffs. With just 8 teams competing in the fledgling NBA at the time, the bottom side from each of the 2 Divisions were eliminated before the Playoffs proper. Then the 2nd and 3rd placed sides in each conference faced each other in the first round, before the winner faced their Division winner for a place in the NBA Finals.

The Hawks defeated the 2nd placed Lakers 2-1, but then fell to the Fort Wayne Pistons 3-2.

All in all Pettit had a successful season despite his teams losing record. 4 years later in 1958-59 Pettit would win his second NBA MVP title, this time his Hawks posted a 49-23 (68%) winning record. Pettit led the league in scoring with 29.2 points per game. However they would once again lose in the second round (Division Finals) this time to Elgin Baylor’s Lakers. This was seen as a huge disappointment for Pettit and the Hawks as they had just come off winning the 1957-58 NBA title.

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar 1975-76 MVP Season

Kareem has won the most NBA MVPs of any player in the history of the league. His six, leading Michael Jordan and Bill Russel’s 5 each. Kareem won 3 MVPs with the Bucks before being traded to the Lakers for the 1975-76 season. Kareem immediately picked up his personal success putting up 27.7 points, 16.9 rebounds and 5 assists on the way to claiming his 4th MVP. However the Lakers struggled, finishing with a losing record of just 40-42 (49%).

Ultimately finishing with the 10th best record overall and the 4th best record in the West, missing out on the Playoffs. Part of this record may have been due to the strength of the Pacific Division, against whom the Lakers played a high proportion of their games. Finishing just 10-16 (38%) against their divisional rivals that included the Warriors, Supersonics, Suns and Blazers. They posted winning records against both the Midwest & Central Divisions, and a narrow losing margin (7-9) vs the Atlantic Division that featured the 54-28 Celtics who finished the season as NBA Champions. Kareem was ever present throughout playing all 82 games.

In addition the Lakers had a vastly different record at home than away. At the Forum in LA they finished 31-10 (76%) while on the road they posted a dismal 9-31 (22%) record. While the majority of teams back then had a superior home record to road, the Lakers 1975-76 season was stark, ranking 6th for home record and 15th for road record, of just 18 teams.

The voters faith in Kareem wasn’t totally misplaced however as he repeated as MVP the following year as the Lakers led all teams with a 53-29 (65%) record. They were swept 4-0 in the Western Finals by eventual champions Portland featuring Bill Walton at Center who would snap Kareem’s MVP streak the following year.

List of NBA Regular Season MVPs including team record

SeasonPlayerTeamPointsReboundsAssistsTeam WinsTeam LossesTeam Win %
2022-23Joel EmbiidPhiladelphia 76ers33.110.24.2542866%
2021-22Nikola JokicDenver Nuggets27.113.87.9483459%
2020-21Nikola JokicDenver Nuggets26.410.88.3472565%
2019-20Giannis AntetokounmpoMilwaukee Bucks29.513.65.6561777%
2018-19Giannis AntetokounmpoMilwaukee Bucks27.712.55.9602273%
2017-18James HardenHouston Rockets30.45.48.8651779%
2016-17Russell WestbrookOklahoma City Thunder31.610.710.4473557%
2015-16Stephen CurryGolden State Warriors30.15.46.773989%
2014-15Stephen CurryGolden State Warriors23.84.37.7671582%
2013-14Kevin DurantOklahoma City Thunder327.45.5592372%
2012-13LeBron JamesMiami Heat26.887.3661680%
2011-12LeBron JamesMiami Heat27.17.96.2462070%
2010-11Derrick RoseChicago Bulls254.17.7622076%
2009-10LeBron JamesCleveland Cavaliers29.77.38.6612174%
2008-9LeBron JamesCleveland Cavaliers28.47.67.2661680%
2007-8Kobe BryantLos Angeles Lakers28.36.35.4572570%
2006-7Dirk NowitzkiDallas Mavericks24.68.93.4671582%
2005-6Steve NashPhoenix Suns18.84.210.5542866%
2004-5Steve NashPhoenix Suns15.53.311.5622076%
2003-4Kevin GarnettMinnesota Timberwolves24.213.95582471%
2002-3Tim DuncanSan Antonio Spurs23.312.93.9602273%
2001-2Tim DuncanSan Antonio Spurs25.512.73.7582471%
2000-1Allen IversonPhiladelphia 76ers31.13.84.6562668%
1999-00Shaquille O’NealLos Angeles Lakers29.713.63.8671582%
1998-99Karl MaloneUtah Jazz23.89.44.1371374%
1997-98Michael JordanChicago Bulls28.75.83.5622076%
1996-97Karl MaloneUtah Jazz27.49.94.5641878%
1995-96Michael JordanChicago Bulls30.46.64.3721088%
1994-95David RobinsonSan Antonio Spurs27.610.82.9622076%
1993-94Hakeem OlajuwonHouston Rockets27.311.93.6582471%
1992-93Charles BarkleyPhoenix Suns25.612.25.1622076%
1991-92Michael JordanChicago Bulls30.16.46.1671582%
1990-91Michael JordanChicago Bulls31.565.5612174%
1989-90Magic JohnsonLos Angeles Lakers22.36.611.5631977%
1988-89Magic JohnsonLos Angeles Lakers22.57.912.8572570%
1987-88Michael JordanChicago Bulls355.55.9503261%
1986-87Magic JohnsonLos Angeles Lakers23.96.312.2651779%
1985-86Larry BirdBoston Celtics25.89.86.8671582%
1984-85Larry BirdBoston Celtics28.710.56.6631977%
1983-84Larry BirdBoston Celtics24.210.16.6622076%
1982-83Moses MalonePhiladelphia 76ers24.515.31.3651779%
1981-82Moses MaloneHouston Rockets31.114.71.8463656%
1980-81Julius ErvingPhiladelphia 76ers24.684.4622076%
1979-80Kareem Abdul-JabbarLos Angeles Lakers24.810.84.5602273%
1978-79Moses MaloneHouston Rockets24.817.61.8473557%
1977-78Bill WaltonPortland Trail Blazers18.913.25582471%
1976-77Kareem Abdul-JabbarLos Angeles Lakers26.213.33.9532965%
1975-76Kareem Abdul-JabbarLos Angeles Lakers27.716.95404249%
1974-75Bob McAdooBuffalo Braves34.514.12.2493360%
1973-74Kareem Abdul-JabbarMilwaukee Bucks2714.54.8592372%
1972-73Dave CowensBoston Celtics20.516.24.1681483%
1971-72Kareem Abdul-JabbarMilwaukee Bucks34.816.64.6631977%
1970-71Kareem Abdul-JabbarMilwaukee Bucks31.7163.3661680%
1969-70Willis ReedNew York Knicks21.713.92602273%
1968-69Wes UnseldBaltimore Bullets13.818.22.6572570%
1967-68Wilt ChamberlainPhiladelphia 76ers24.323.88.6622076%
1966-67Wilt ChamberlainPhiladelphia 76ers24.124.27.8681384%
1965-66Wilt ChamberlainPhiladelphia 76ers33.524.65.2552569%
1964-65Bill RussellBoston Celtics14.124.15.3621878%
1963-64Oscar RobertsonCincinnati Royals31.49.911552569%
1962-63Bill RussellBoston Celtics16.823.64.5582273%
1961-62Bill RussellBoston Celtics18.923.64.5602075%
1960-61Bill RussellBoston Celtics16.923.93.4572272%
1959-60Wilt ChamberlainPhiladelphia Warriors37.6272.3492665%
1958-59Bob PettitSt. Louis Hawks29.216.43.1492368%
1957-58Bill RussellBoston Celtics16.622.72.9492368%
1956-57Bob CousyBoston Celtics20.64.87.5442861%
1955-56Bob PettitSt. Louis Hawks25.716.22.6333946%

The table above shows you year by year who won MVP, what team they were on, what basic counting stats they posted and what their teams record was that season.

Bottom 10 NBA MVPs ranked by team record

SeasonPlayerTeamPointsReboundsAssistsTeam WinsTeam LossesTeam Win %
1955-56Bob PettitSt. Louis Hawks25.716.22.6333946%
1975-76Kareem Abdul-JabbarLos Angeles Lakers27.716.95404249%
1981-82Moses MaloneHouston Rockets31.114.71.8463656%
2016-17Russell WestbrookOklahoma City Thunder31.610.710.4473557%
1978-79Moses MaloneHouston Rockets24.817.61.8473557%
2021-22Nikola JokicDenver Nuggets27.113.87.9483459%
1974-75Bob McAdooBuffalo Braves34.514.12.2493360%
1987-88Michael JordanChicago Bulls355.55.9503261%
1956-57Bob CousyBoston Celtics20.64.87.5442861%
1976-77Kareem Abdul-JabbarLos Angeles Lakers26.213.33.9532965%

As you can see from the table above, only Kareem and Pettit have ever won the NBA MVP while posting a losing record. No player has ever won NBA MVP with a losing record over an 82 game season. Moses Malone came close twice with the Rockets, while more recently Westbrook and Jokic have achieved the feat with sub 60% winning records.


The achievement of being voted the NBA’s regular season MVP shouldn’t be diminished or talked down by the overall team record. While it should, of course, be a factor in the voting process, once decided a losing record could serve to hold the player in higher regard. If they were able to shine so brightly, even while the team struggled, then they truly must be valuable.

However as someone who remembers the Russell Westbrook MVP season, I just can’t get behind this view fully. Ultimately context matters and we have to trust that the people chosen to vote on this matter have done so with clear eyes and full hearts.