The National Basketball Association awards the Most Valuable Player Award (MVP) to the best performing player of each season. Hundreds of star players enter the league every year, all with high hopes, but only one MVP is chosen. The award has run from 1955 to date.
In more than half a century, has a rookie ever won the MVP in the NBA? The short answer is yes; two rookies have won the MVP in their first year in the league. The MVP award is the highest honor that a basket player can get, second only to the hall of fame induction. The MVP title means the player has earned the title of the best player in the world's best league.
Winning an MVP means that the player joined the league, and in their first 82 games, they outdid the rest of the players. It is such a great honor that only two rookie players have achieved it in NBA history.
Has a Rookie Ever Won MVP in the NBA?
The NBA MVP award is a highly coveted award for any basketball player. The award is given to the most outstanding player in a season. Skills and talent are the main factors that earn players the MVP award. It is (almost) unheard of for a rookie to win.
Wilt Chamberlain was an absolute basketball legend, and it showed, even in his first season. He won the MVP as a rookie for the first time in 1960. Chamberlain remained a force to be reckoned with throughout his career.
Wes Unseld was the second NBA player to win the MVP as a rookie. He achieved this impossible feat in 1969, a true testament to his basketball skills and hard work.
Only twice in the NBA’s history has a newcomer to the league dominated the game and won MVP. These players consistently outperformed other players in nearly every game and in their first seasons!
In their first year in the NBA, Will Chamberlain and Wes Unseld bagged the MVP award and the Rookie of the Year awards at the same time.
Who Was the First Rookie to Win MVP in the NBA?
Any NBA fan knows the name: Wilt Chamberlain. He is the first player ever to win an MVP award as a rookie. Wilt “The Stilt” became a household name after taking his place on almost every NBA scoring record. He began his NBA career with the Philadelphia Warriors in the 1959-1960 season.
He dominated the league that year, averaging 37.6 points off of 32.1 field goals attempted in each game. Chamberlain successfully shot around 46% of the field goals he attempted and averaged 27 rebounds in each game. In 58 games, Chamberlain scored 2,102 points while breaking eight previous records!
Basketball fans marveled at his athleticism and stature. Other teams employed double or even triple defense to counter his advances.
Amazingly, Chamberlain single-handedly carried his team to the eastern conference finals in his rookie year. However, they lost to the Boston Celtics, whose team included star player Bill Russell.
Wilt “The Stilt"'s Other Awards
Chamberlain held the title unchallenged for nine years. At just 24, Chamberlain displayed advanced techniques and ball-handling skills that are rare even now.
Unsurprisingly, Chamberlain also has the current record for the most points scored by a rookie in a game, which is 58. Chamberlain played so well in his rookie year that other players began taking hard fouls against him, causing the young athlete to consider retiring.
However, Chamberlain did not retire and went on to win numerous awards and accolades during his NBA career. He is the only player in NBA history to collect 50 points and 35 rebounds during a playoff game and the only player to average 50 points in a single game!
At the end of his first season, he won the 1960 MVP title. By the end of his career, Wilt had won four MVP awards in 1960, 1966, 1967, and 1968. Subsequently, he earned his spot in the Basketball Hall of Fame in 1978. Chamberlain died in Bel Air, California, in the year 1999.
Who is Wes Unseld?
The Baltimore Bullets drafted Wes Unseld in 1968. In 1969, he became the second (and so far, only) rookie to win an MVP award, nine years after Chamberlain had won the award.
In his first 82 games, he played for 36.2 minutes, averaged 13.8 points, 18.2 rebounds, and made 2.6 assists per game, with a field goal percentage of 47.6%.
Unseld was able to help the Bullets finish first in the eastern division with a whopping 57-25 record. In 1968, the Bullets finished last in the league one year before. As a rookie and a leader of his team, Unseld showed impeccable offense and defense capabilities.
His first game was not as impressive as Wilt Chamberlain's. He scored just 8 points and had 22 rebounds against the Detroit positions.
However, with hard work and consistency, Unseld was able to earn the MVP award in his first year in the NBA. His size and height were not typical for a player in the center position.
Luckily, Unseld more than made up for this with his fierce determination and strength. Wes Unseld was short compared to other players in the center position, standing at 6 feet 7. However, he was well known for his rebounding skills, incredible assists, and prowess in fast breaks.
Unseld achieved a double-double with 10.8 points and 14 rebounds during his entire career. Unseld played in 984 regular-season games and 119 playoff games throughout his career.
He played for the Bullets franchise his entire career, starting in Baltimore and retiring as a Bullet. After his retirement, the team retired his jersey number 41 in his memory.
Despite retiring, Unseld just couldn’t stay away. So six years later, he came back to coach the Bullets. He coached a total of 1,136 games throughout seven seasons. At the end of his career, Unseld had won an NBA championship and finals MVP in 1978 and five NBA all-star selections in 1969, 1971, 1972, 1973, and 1975.
He also won the A.J. Walter Kennedy citizenship award in 1975 and a gold medal in the 1967 Pan-American games with Team USA. He took his place in the basketball hall of fame in 1988.
Conclusion: Rookie NBA MVP
In the history of the NBA, only Wilt Chamberlain and Wes Unseld have managed to earn the prestigious MVP award as rookies. It has been 50 years since a rookie won the league's MVP last.
The basketball skills of players and the scope of the NBA have increased so much that nowadays, it is almost impossible for a rookie to dominate the league as Chamberlain and Unseld did.
Nevertheless, no one can deny these players’ intense determination and exceptional talent. However, these players joined the NBA when players had a better chance of winning the MVP as rookies because there was less competition.
Nowadays, the chances of a rookie winning the NBA’s MVP award are incredibly slim. Although, in the world of the NBA, you might often be surprised. Currently, there are many contenders for the MVP role. Competing with seasoned basketball players like LeBron James and Luka Doncic makes the feat highly unlikely.
That being said, legendary players like Will Chamberlain and Wes Unseld leave behind a great legacy for young aspiring basketball players to look up to. As the NBA stands today, for a rookie to even be a contender for MVP is an outstanding achievement.