MIAMI — LeBron James loves telling the story about his first MVP award.
In James’ first season of organized basketball, he was the best player on an undefeated team, but everyone on the roster got an MVP trophy from coach Frank Walker Sr.
“Right then and there, I knew that this is what I wanted to do,” James said Friday.
On Saturday, the Miami Heat forward was set to get another MVP award — one that puts him on a list alongside seven of the game’s absolute greats.
A person familiar with the decision told The Associated Press that James will be announced as the winner of the NBA’s top individual honor, and that he’ll be formally presented the trophy by Commissioner David Stern on Sunday afternoon before Miami faces Indiana in Game 1 of their Eastern Conference semifinal series.
James is winning the award for the third time in four seasons. Only Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Michael Jordan, Bill Russell, Wilt Chamberlain, Larry Bird, Magic Johnson and Moses Malone have won at least that many MVP trophies.
Abdul-Jabbar won six times, Jordan and Russell five times each, Chamberlain four times. After this weekend, they’ll be the only players with more than James.
“I think LeBron is an MVP candidate every year,” Boston Celtics coach Doc Rivers said last month. “It’s just who he is. He only does everything. So I don’t know what more you can ask from him.
“LeBron, to me, is the favorite every year. The years he doesn’t win it, it’ll usually be because people are just tired of voting for him. Statistically, if you go all-around game, I don’t know how you don’t vote for him every year.”
James said last week that while another MVP award “would be amazing and would be humbling,” it’s not what drives him. In his ninth season, James still has not won an NBA title and it’s clear that, although he wanted to reclaim the MVP trophy, winning a championship is far and away his top basketball priority.
“I think he’s probably as committed as he’s ever been in his career,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said this week, asked to summarize James’ season. “And he’s always been committed. ... We all respond to his energy on the court.”
A news conference was scheduled to take place on the court at American Airlines Arena after Saturday’s Heat practice. James averaged 27.1 points, 7.9 rebounds and 6.2 assists — making him only the fourth player with those totals in at least two seasons, according to STATS LLC, joining Oscar Robertson (five times), John Havlicek (twice) and Bird (twice).
Add James’ 53 percent shooting and 1.9 steals per game into the mix, and the club gets even more exclusive. Only Jordan had a season with numbers exceeding what James did this season in those categories — 1988-89, when he averaged 32.5 points, eight rebounds, eight assists and 2.9 steals on 54 percent shooting.
And Jordan wasn’t even the MVP that year, the trophy going to Johnson instead.
Voting results were slated to be announced Saturday as well. Oklahoma City’s Kevin Durant was widely expected to be James’ top competition for the MVP, after winning the NBA scoring title for a third straight season. Chris Paul of the Los Angeles Clippers, Kobe Bryant of the Los Angeles Lakers and Tony Parker of the San Antonio Spurs also had seasons that generated some MVP buzz.
James’ teammates also lobbied for him to be defensive player of the year this season, noting that probably no one else in the league routinely plays four positions on offense while sometimes being asked to guard anyone from a point guard to a center on defense. James was fourth in that balloting.
“LeBron has been unbelievable,” Heat guard Dwyane Wade told The AP before the playoffs. “He’s done it at both ends, every night, offensively and defensively.”
Last season’s MVP, Derrick Rose of the Chicago Bulls, appeared in only 39 of 66 regular-season games this season because of a variety of injuries. His season ended in Game 1 of the Bulls’ first-round series against Philadelphia, when he tore a knee ligament.
Many in the Heat organization thought James should have won the award a year ago as well, when he dealt with constant fallout from “The Decision” to leave the Cleveland Cavaliers as a free agent and sign with Miami, where he, Wade and Chris Bosh formed a “Big Three” that has been celebrated at home and reviled in just about every other NBA arena.
James has said he played more out of anger and to silence criticism than anything else last season. So this season, his mindset changed, with him trying to revert to old ways, first as a superstar-in-waiting at St. Vincent-St. Mary High School in his hometown of Akron, Ohio, then during his seven seasons with the Cavaliers.
It apparently worked.
“I wanted to get back to who I was as a person,” James said.
It’s the first time that the Heat will be hosting an MVP celebration.
Shaquille O’Neal won his only MVP award before coming to Miami, and James won the 2009 and 2010 trophies with the Cavaliers — receiving 225 of a possible 244 first-place votes in those seasons.
The NBA MVP trophy is named for Maurice Podoloff, the league’s first commissioner. Heat assistant coach Bob McAdoo won the award once, for the Buffalo Braves in 1975.