Why didn’t Stephen Curry win 2015 NBA Finals MVP?
BOSTON — Looking back, Jeff Van Gundy admits he was thoroughly surprised when Andre Iguodala was announced as MVP of the 2015 NBA Finals.
Surprised, he says, because he was certain LeBron James would win it.
“Actually, I was shocked that it wasn’t unanimous for LeBron,” says Van Gundy, ESPN’s lead NBA analyst. “That’s just me. I didn’t think it was a hard decision.”
Perhaps not a hard decision for Van Gundy (though other voters that night were very much torn). But absolutely a polarizing decision, one that still provokes controversy, confusion and even conspiracy theories all these years later.
Van Gundy was one of four voters who cast ballots for James on June 16, 2015, believing the Cavaliers superstar was the best player in the series, despite losing in six games to the Warriors.
The other seven voters chose Iguodala, the Warriors’ do-everything swingman, whose insertion into the starting lineup in Game 4, and his defense on James, helped turn the series around—from a 2–1 deficit to a 4–2 victory.
That meant Stephen Curry, the Warriors’ franchise star and MVP of the regular season, got zero votes—an act of pure heresy to Curry loyalists, who have never forgiven the snub. It remains a hot topic on social media and talk shows, reigniting whenever Curry’s legacy is discussed.
And it’s lurking again now, with the Warriors and Celtics tied at 2–2 in the NBA Finals. Curry has been absolutely electric, averaging 34.3 points and 6.3 three-pointers per game. If the Warriors win the title, Curry will almost certainly win MVP—filling the one glaring hole on his resume.
Curry has three championship rings and two regular-season MVP trophies but zero Finals MVPs. Teammate Kevin Durant took the honor in both 2017 (unanimously) and 2018 (with seven votes, to Curry’s four).
That fact didn’t prevent Curry from making the NBA’s “75 greatest” list, nor will it impair his Hall of Fame chances. His legacy is quite secure. The missing trophy also doesn’t seem to bother Curry nearly as much as it irks his most fanatical backers.
“No matter who wins it, it’s so much joy in that moment, you want to be able to experience it,” Curry recently told ESPN. “That smaller (MVP) trophy isn’t the motivation at all, but you know what comes with winning the big one.”
But the debate still rages. So we figured it was worth asking the 2015 voters to reflect on their decision, the still-simmering debate and whether they have any second thoughts, seven years later.
The Iguodala voters were:
- Hubie Brown of ESPN
- Sam Amick (then of USA Today, now with The Athletic)
- Ken Berger (then of CBSSports.com)
- Jason Lloyd (then of the Akron Beacon Journal, now with The Athletic)
- Marc Spears (then of Yahoo Sports, now with ESPN’s Andscape)
- Marc Stein (then of ESPN.com, now on Substack)
- Rusty Simmons (then with the San Francisco Chronicle)
The James voters were:
- Van Gundy
- Zach Lowe (then of Grantland, now with ESPN)
- Steve Aschburner of NBA.com
- And me, Howard Beck (then with Bleacher Report)
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We asked everyone the same basic questions for this piece, either by email or in person. The answers from eight of the 11 are below. Brown politely declined to participate, feeling that the choice was made (and correctly, in his view) and there was no point in revisiting it. Spears provided one statement via email, which is included below. I won’t quote myself here, but suffice to say that I stand by my vote for James, for many of the reasons laid out by my colleagues.
Interviews were conducted between Games 1 and 2. The responses have been edited for length and clarity.
How seriously did you consider Curry for MVP? Why was he ultimately not your choice?
Stein: Very seriously. Those Warriors revolved around Steph and frankly they still do. But I ultimately went with Iguodala, because he changed the series when he became a starter. People forget he scored 25 points in the clinching Game 6 win. People also forget that the Warriors were a shaky mess at 2–1, down against a heavy underdog that won TWO games without Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving to take a series lead. Iguodala changed the series, and that’s why he got my vote.
Lowe: Very seriously. If I had voted for a Warrior, I’d have voted for Curry. I just thought what LeBron did, getting that Cavs team without Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love a 2–1 lead—and keeping them competitive in all but one of their four losses—was pretty remarkable. Too many people focus on LeBron’s shooting percentages in that series, which were not great. They weren’t horrid either, and he was doing pretty much everything.
Spears: There was no other NBA Finals MVP, All-Star MVP or final season award vote that I have agonized over more than this one. There was not a lot of time to think about it, either. Ultimately, the defensive impact of Iguodala on LeBron swayed me. But it was by a nose.
Berger: For me, LeBron was the runaway leader in the clubhouse after the first three games. How could he not have been after putting up 44-8-6 in 45 minutes, 39-16-11 in 50 minutes, and 40-12-8-4 in 46 minutes? Steph was the best player on the Warriors through three games … but not even close to the best player in the series. The series changed when Steve Kerr inserted Iguodala into the starting lineup in Game 4. In that pivotal game, LeBron was human (20-12-8 in 40 minutes) as the Warriors tied the series at 2–2 and avoided the dreaded 3–1 deficit. So at that point, Curry was a distant second to LeBron in my MVP thoughts. I wasn’t thinking Iguodala … yet.
Lloyd: If the Cavs had gotten it to a Game 7 and stretched the series as far as it could go (as Jerry West did the year he won it in a losing effort), LeBron would’ve gotten my vote, regardless. The fact the Cavs lost in six, and three straight to end the series, eliminated him from my ballot. So then it became Steph or Iggy. The fact remains the entire series swung on Iggy entering the Warriors’ starting lineup. When Iguodala was off the court in these Finals, LeBron shot 44% and the Cavs outscored the Warriors by 30 points. When Iguodala was on the court, he was James’s primary defender and LeBron shot 38%—and the Warriors outscored the Cavs by 55. Without Iguodala, the Cavs win the series. That’s pretty valuable to me, even if it doesn’t fit the narrative today.
Aschburner: I considered Curry as seriously as any of the players in that series. I think I heard the Iguodala chatter, but wasn’t persuaded. My view of Curry was that he had been good, but not GREAT, and had had plenty of help at various points in the series. Meanwhile, LeBron had little or no help with Kyrie out after one game and Kevin Love not available at all.
Simmons: I barely considered Curry, but I definitely waffled on whether I was voting for the NBA Finals’ best player or most valuable player. LeBron James was clearly the best player in the series, and Andre Iguodala was clearly the most valuable player to the winning team in the series. Curry was ultimately not part of my choice, even with the understanding that he got the Warriors to a place that they hadn’t been for 40 years. He simply was not among the most impactful players in that best-of-seven series, and I believe that’s what I was called to vote on.
Amick: After three games, it just felt like LeBron was eviscerating the Warriors; and more importantly, that Steph was getting mauled in this matchup, and he had a really bad Game 2. Games 1 and 3 looked fine in the box score, but defensively, he was getting picked on a bit. The thing that gets overlooked a bit is that when (Andrew) Bogut was in there, it was inviting the Cavs to trap with Tristan Thompson and making life really tough on Steph. So when Iguodala entered the starting lineup in Game 4, it wasn’t just a case of slowing LeBron a little bit, it was also that on the offensive end, he was spacing the floor and making things easier on Steph.
Van Gundy: I thought it was clear cut (for James). And then the next clear-cut one was, if it was from the Warriors, it was Curry. But you’re also happy for a guy like Iguodala, who’s had a terrific career, and he played great. My second pick would have been Curry. Sometimes when you don’t play to the level—this incredibly high level of expectation that he’s created for himself—you get overscrutinized. And I think that’s been him a lot in his career.
Looking back, would you still vote the same way?
Lowe: I would. As you recall, there was a lot of tension among the voters about whether anyone should vote for a player on the losing team—i.e., LeBron. I didn’t really have any qualms about it. I thought he was the best player in the series by a wide enough margin that I felt comfortable with it and would vote the same today.
Berger: I absolutely would. Golden State didn’t lose a game with Iguodala in the starting lineup, and LeBron’s numbers for the series dwarfed Curry’s. The calculation for me was: Do I vote for the best player in the series, even if he’s on the losing team? Or the player whose role, in my estimation, was most directly tied to a clear shift in the complexion of the series, not to mention its outcome? In the end, I went with B.
Lloyd: I still believe we got the vote right, and I’d vote the same way today. A lot of the conversation that year was between LeBron and Iggy. Steph was a bit of an afterthought, which is why no one voted for him. I did have a member of the Cavs organization text me after the vote that he was surprised no one voted Curry, because the Cavs built their entire defense around slowing Steph. And when Steph got hot at the end of Game 3, which the Warriors lost, the Cavs were concerned that Steph had figured them out defensively. If that adds fuel to the Steph side of this, so be it.
Simmons: I still flip-flop in my head once a week about whether I was right to vote for Iguodala over James when the voting comes up on some shock-jock sports show. But I still don’t think Curry should be in that conversation, and it has never entered my mind. He was neither the best or most valuable player on the court during the best-of-seven series.
Amick: My takeaway was: LeBron was incredible, but agree or disagree, I did not feel comfortable voting for him without a Game 7. And then from there, I’m lying to myself if I think Steph Curry was the most impactful Warrior in the Finals. The Warriors were toast after three games, and Steph’s actual impact was not reflected in the box score.
Aschburner: Yes, I’d still vote the same way. Look, I knew it was “historic” in the sense that only one previous Finals MVP had come from the losing side (Jerry West, in 1969). But James’s one-man show was remarkable. Three games of 40-plus points (none for Steph). Two triple-doubles. Five double-doubles. If not for James’s production, the Cavaliers would have been swept. The next biggest scorer on Cleveland: Timofey Mozgov, 14.0 ppg. J.R. Smith hoisted the second-most shots (77), averaged 11.5 ppg and shot 29.4% on three-pointers.
Stein: I’ve written it twice already, once as recently as last week: I’m as big a Stephen Curry admirer as you will find in the media but I have zero remorse about that vote. We only fixate on it all these years later because Kevin Durant became a Warrior and monopolized Finals MVP in 2017 and 2018.
Curry’s proponents argue that Iguodala was the beneficiary of everything Steph does. And that for all the praise of Iguodala’s defense, LeBron still put up big numbers. Are those arguments at all persuasive?
Lowe: The first one is, though I think characterizing anyone as accomplished as Iguodala as a simple “beneficiary” of Curry’s talent on offense is a disservice to him. Everyone benefits playing next to great players, let alone the greatest shooter of all time, and the Warriors indeed won that series because Curry drew two defenders on pick-and-rolls and let the Warriors play 4-on-3 underneath—with a lot of those possessions ending in open threes for guys like Iguodala.
But you have to make those shots. Iguodala is also a wickedly creative passer in the half-court and in transition. Kerr introducing him into the starting five changed that series, and really kinda changed basketball. He defended LeBron well enough that the Warriors didn’t have to send too much help. I mean, we are talking about peak LeBron getting the ball every single time because of injuries to Irving and Love. You are going to give up numbers to that guy.
That said, Steph was the engine, and his ability to manufacture open looks as the fulcrum of Golden State’s offense is why I would have voted him over Iguodala.
Berger: LeBron scored 123 points in three games with Iguodala coming off the bench, and 92 points in the three games Iggy started. For me, that’s when the pendulum shifted from LeBron to Iguodala.
Stein: I am intimately familiar with this argument, because I used this exact reasoning as the only voter for Tim Duncan for Finals MVP at the 2007 Finals. Tony Parker won that vote by a 9–1 count, and I was the one. The difference: That San Antonio team was utterly dominant and swept the Cavs in LeBron’s first Finals … and all that dominance flowed from Duncan’s immense presence at both ends. The Warriors were not dominating the 2015 Finals when Iguodala became a starter. Not even close. They were teetering.
Simmons: It’s a valid argument that Iguodala was open for three-pointers because of the attention Cleveland paid to Curry. It’s an invalid argument that James’s numbers were the same while Iguodala defended him, especially after Iguodala entered the starting lineup. He changed the series. What do those Curry backers say about Iguodala covering for Curry’s defensive mistakes and turnovers?
Lloyd: It doesn’t persuade me, no. Of course, LeBron put up big numbers. The Cavs didn’t have anyone else! LeBron’s usage rate was 39% in that series. Being at every game, watching every play closely, the whole dynamic of the series flipped when Iguodala entered the starting lineup.
Aschburner: Those points are very persuasive—that Steph was the more valuable Warrior that series, just not that he was that Finals’ MVP. I did find it interesting that nobody on the panel voted for Curry. Had I not voted for LeBron, I would have voted for Curry—and he still would have lost.
Amick: The second Iguodala entered the series, everything changed. And honestly, that for me cut through a lot of the stats, a lot of the nuance, a lot of the context. Like it was kind of black and white. The Warriors were on track to lose the Finals until they took Bogut out, put Andre in.
Curry has never won Finals MVP. Does it matter? Is his legacy diminished by it?
Amick: I think it does matter. Nobody is trying to say that the lack of a Finals MVP drops Steph into “only” a top-50 player. We are arguing whether Steph Curry should be top 15, or does he somehow pierce the top 10? And when you get to that kind of rarefied air, then you’re going to pore through everything. I am a firm believer that the fact that he does not have any Finals MVPs, in a fascinating way, is an incredibly positive reflection of his legacy, in terms of his willingness to yield the spotlight, his willingness to welcome a superstar like Durant, to empower a role player like Iguodala.
Lowe: No, and no. I mean, would it be nice? Sure. Would it convince some people he’s, say, the 11th-greatest player ever instead of the 16th? Probably. But we are talking about degrees of all-time greatness, and Curry is in that conversation regardless. Time and perspective is going to be really kind to his career, regardless of whether he gets a Finals MVP. And by the way, if they win this series, he’s absolutely getting it.
Van Gundy: Not to me, no. Zero. Below negligible. The whole term “legacy” I think is overdone. He’s one of the most influential figures in basketball, in NBA history. Very few guys changed the game. He has.
Lloyd: I don’t think Steph needs a Finals MVP to validate anything he’s done. He’s had a remarkable career. I’d also point out in 2015, Steph was just becoming STEPH. He was still growing into this player we see today. He wasn’t really one of the faces of the league just yet. He’s a fabulous player, Finals MVP or not.
Simmons: Curry’s legacy is secure as a generational talent who changed the game, as the best shooter who has ever lived, and as a dogged winner who smiles and sometimes shimmies while he’s doing it. Curry’s legacy is as a top-15 player of all time, and one NBA Finals MVP award won’t have much of an impact on that.
Aschburner: Nope, not at all. To me, he did what it took to get his team to and through the Finals, reaching five in a row and winning three times. As far as legacies, I think championship rings matter most. Finals MVP trophies are a nice addition to a resume, but not essential in my view. I think Curry is secure in the league’s history with those back-to-back MVP seasons, three rings, and no Finals MVP.
Berger: Does not matter whatsoever. His legacy as the greatest shooter in NBA history—and one of the most innovative and impactful offensive forces the game has ever seen—is fully intact regardless of what media types scribble on a piece of paper in the waning minutes of the NBA Finals.
Stein: Not one single iota to me.
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