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Saturday, May 10, 2008
Washington helped Evessa down stretch, but did not deserve MVP
By ED ODEVEN
The bj-league is working tirelessly around the clock to make itself a recognizable product — a collection of teams, coaches and players that is identifiable and popular — in a nation where basketball plays second fiddle to almost every other sport. And it deserves credit for elevating the profile of the sport in Japan.
As the league wrapped up its third season on Sunday, and Osaka Evessa fulfilled their preseason vow to earn a three-peat, beating the Tokyo Apache 66-56 at Ariake Colosseum, the accomplishment was overshadowed by a glaring mistake: Lynn Washington was named the 2007-08 bj-league MVP.
Washington is a terrific player, a gifted leader who has become the face of the franchise, even more so than its ultra-successful coach, Kensaku Tennichi.
But was the ex-Indiana University player really the most valuable player in the 10-team league this season?
Washington didn't play in 30 of Osaka's 46 games (65 percent). When he did play — before and after a major knee injury — the strong, steady power forward made a major impact on his team's on-court success, putting 21.7 points per game on the board and providing a major presence in the low post and on the boards.
Playing superbly and often (and not a perceived popularity contest) should be the No. 1 criteria for this prestigious award. Players must play often to be deemed valuable; otherwise, they fail to satisfy the major requirement for appearing on a regular-season ballot.
Washington didn't boast when he was issued the MVP trophy after Sunday's game. He humbly stated that anyone on the court could've been named the MVP.
Well, not exactly.
But it's true that his team features three MVP-caliber candidates: point guard Matt Lottich, shooting guard Mikey Marshall and center Jeff Newton.
The Apache, on the other hand, have an impact-making center, Nick Davis, who should appear on everyone's ballot. He brought a refreshing blend of old-school defensive aptitude and never-wavering enthusiasm to make his teammates better.
All four of the above-mentioned candidates played major minutes this season; Washington didn't.
And that's why his overall (limited) body of work in 2007-08 should prevent him from being on the list.
By naming Washington, who received the 2005-06 league MVP, the winner this season, the bj-league has diminished the prestige of the honor.
It sets a bad precedent.
It creates more questions than answers.
And it leaves opposing players and fans of other teams shaking their heads in disbelief.
In reality, Washington was the league's Most Inspirational Player this season. And yes, he put up solid numbers, too (he always does).
He worked tirelessly to overcome his knee injury, enduring surgery and pain-staking physical rehab (and during his absence the Evessa went 23-7).
Throughout this entire ordeal, Washington kept his eye on the prize: a third title.
Since Day One, Washington proclaimed his team would earn its third straight title this season. He even persuaded the team's front office to make that proclamation its motto ("Road to Three-peat! 2007-08") for the season, which was displayed on the Internet since before the team's season opener against Rizing Fukuoka.
Would the Evessa have won the title without Washington?
I'm not so sure.
Washington clearly provided an emotional lift for Osaka when he returned to the lineup for the final eight regular-season games and two playoff contests. And he always plays the game at an intense level and seems to thrive on the pressure of extending the Evessa dynasty.
Credit Washington for helping the bj-league improve its quality of play in the past three seasons. Above all, he's become a recognizable star in a league that needs more stars to emerge, especially Japanese stars.
But he wasn't the Most Valuable Player this season.
That accolade should've gone to somebody else.
The Japan Times will reveal its 2007-008 award winners, including the MVP, as well as its bj-league All-First Team, All-Second Team and All-Japanese Team selections over the next few days.