In 2009, Cleveland Cavaliers superstar LeBron James won his first MVP award and finished a distant second to Dwight Howard in Defensive Player of the Year voting. James was just 24 years old then, and it felt like he'd win both of those awards plenty of times before the end of his prime.
Seven years later, it is not clear when his prime will end, but James still has yet to take home the Defensive Player of the Year trophy. And he isn't happy about it.
"I've been highly upset that I've never won Defensive Player of the Year," James said Saturday. "It was a goal of mine. It's still a goal of mine, so we'll see what happens with that the rest of my career.
"But I've always taken that side of the floor very seriously, and being able to guard multiple positions, being able to know what teams are doing out on the floor and putting my teammates in position to be successful, you know, that's always been something I've taken pride in."
James brought this up unprompted -- he was responding to a question about his shot-blocking against the Golden State Warriors in the NBA Finals. Given that there have been few players in the history of the league who have combined James' defensive versatility with his athleticism and intelligence, it is indeed strange that he's never been named the best defensive player in the league.
When you look at it, though, it is hard to pinpoint a year where James was wronged. Howard's win in 2009 was the first of three straight for him, and he was the most dominant defensive force in basketball back then. James' best individual season on that end was 2012, when his Miami Heat were at their peak in terms of consistently pressuring and smothering opponents, but he finished fourth behind Tyson Chandler, Serge Ibaka and Howard. There were a lot of good candidates that year.
James came closest in 2013, finishing second behind Memphis Grizzlies center Marc Gasol, and that was despite the Heat taking a bit of a step back on the defensive end. Since then, James has remained a top-flight defender when he is fully engaged, but he has not been the consistent menace that he was when he was flying all over the place his first couple of years in Miami. There has been a noticeable increase in possessions where he loses track of his man away from the ball or gambles for steals rather than staying solid. After finishing sixth in the voting in 2014, he has been out of the conversation in his second stint in Cleveland.
If this is really still one of James' goals, it'll be interesting to see what the next couple of years look like for him. He is on a team where he does not have to be the main facilitator every night, so he could conceivably decide to take a step back on offense and focus on being the best defender he can be every night. Given that the Cavaliers were inconsistent on defense this season, maybe that's best for the team, anyway.