Kobe Bryant Grab First MVP

Los Angeles Lakers guard Kobe Bryant officially won his first NBA Most Valuable Player Award, confirming reports that leaked out late last week. Commissioner David Stern will present the Maurice Podoloff Trophy to Bryant prior to Wednesday’s Western Conference Semifinal Game Two against Utah at the Staples Center.

Bryant finished the season averaging 28.3 points, 6.3 rebounds, and 5.4 assists, playing all 82 games despite battling a torn ligament in his pinky finger since February. He becomes the first Laker to win the award since former teammate Shaquille O’Neal was the unanimous selection in 1999-2000. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Magic Johnson are the only other Lakers to win MVP awards – each with two.

The 29-year-old collected 82 of the 126 first place votes, finishing with 1105 points beating out New Orleans guard Chris Paul (889 points) and Boston forward Kevin Garnett (670 points). Cleveland’s LeBron James (438 points) and Orlando’s Dwight Howard (60 points) round out the top five. Bryant led the NBA in scoring the past two seasons, but his best previous MVP finish was third place, both last year and in 2002-2003.

After a well-publicized trade demand following last season’s playoff loss, Bryant led the Lakers back to the top of the competitive Western Conference. The Lakers swept Denver in the first round of the playoffs, their first series win since the 2003-2004 playoffs, O’Neal’s last season. Los Angeles holds a 1-0 series advantage heading into tomorrow’s game with Utah.

Aside from winning an NBA Title without Shaq, the MVP award is the culmination of a great comeback for Bryant. Five years after rape charges cost him five major endorsement deals, Bryant has completely reinvented his image. His jersey is atop the NBA in sales again, he’s featured in Vitamin Water ads, and manned the cover of EA Sports NBA video game last season. In transforming from team killer to model teammate, and disappearing from the public eye off the court, Bryant is once again a coveted marketing tool for brands to associate with, especially the NBA.

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