I remember a school year that I’d done well on a standardized test, and ended up scoring in the 99th percentile. I remember remarking to my teacher that I was still a little envious, as I’d almost done as well as the best kids. The ones at the top. She stopped, confused by what I meant. A fourth-grade “Who’s on first?” ensued.
“But you were at the top”, she said.
“But what about the kids in the 100th percentile?”
“There is no 100th percentile.”
“But… what do they give a kid who scores 100%?”
“99th percentile. You actually scored 100%.”
“I scored 100%…?”
“Which is… the 99th percentile…”
“I’m glad this stuff wasn’t on the math test.”
Turns out, there is no “best kid”, just a thousand or so kids who all got all the questions right. They don’t want to say one of them is actually best, so they give those folks the “99th percentile” runaround. Confusing.
Another tale… Stop me if you’ve heard this one.
A “guy” who happens to be tremendously naturally gifted at basketball, makes, remakes, and re-remakes himself and his game to eventually become the two-time MVP, a guy who is mentioned breathlessly as the first possible three-time-in-a-row MVP since Larry Bird, joining an elite list with few other incredible names on it.
Instead, a popular new choice is made for the MVP, and while that first “guy’s” fans scream about voter fatigue, that “guy” goes on instead to carry his team to the NBA Finals, putting on such a show that he is the obvious choice for Finals MVP. He’s so transcendent, that everyone looks at the sad-sack-washed-out-in-the-second-round regular season MVP and says, “WHAT WERE WE POSSIBLY THINKING?!?!?!”
Sound familiar? You know that “guy”?
That’s right. It’s Giannis Antetokounmpo.
No, really. It’s amazing that it was actually only the two years preceding Nikola Jokic’s MVP wins that this all occurred, just with Joker on the other side of the equation, playing the sad-sack in Giannis’ march to the finish line of the Finals. But it’s certainly understandable if you were thinking the sack of our story went by the initials J.E. That’s understandable.
Anyway, Antetokounmpo also gave a thoughtful perspective on being on the other end of the spectrum, after a highly unanticipated elimination in the first round of this years playoffs. In a now-famous response to a query about the postseason “failure” that would soon cost their coach his job, Giannis spoke to the nature of failure and success…
In his thoughtful shades-of-gray answer, there are notions around what constitutes success and failure in sports/today’s NBA. That at any one time, there is only one “best”. One “top”. One “Most Valuable”.
As these playoffs sail on, it’s almost embarrassing at this point to watch the very last folks remaining finally jumping on the “Jokic is the best player in the world” bandwagon, with words like “generational”, “game-changing” and “all-time” suddenly entering the conversation. Game after game, series after series, he keeps tacking on “never been done before” credentials.
If you’re better than the Most Valuable Player, are you… Moster? Mosterest? Moister? Ew. No. Surely, mathematically, a guy who is maybe-better-than-anyone-ever has got to be better-than-anyone-this-year. Right?
Or maybe, as Giannis eludes to on a tangentially different topic above, or as Jokic keeps saying, over and over and over again… Maybe it just doesn’t actually matter. Maybe it only means something to those who say it does. Or who might even go so far as to campaign for it. Joel. At the end of the day, Jokic and every other player worth their salt would trade the Michael Jordan Trophy for the Larry O’Brien version any and every day, including the transcendent and invaluable Joel Embiid. Hell, forget the trophy, gimme that ring. Jokic needs two more wins for the stuff he really cares about.
The “Most Valuable” guy? The Mostest Most Valuablest Guy? That sh– is all just the 99th percentile.