Winning is hard -- if it were easy, everyone would do it. Building a sustained run of success in the NBA requires building your team around superstar talent that transcends generations.
It's always been a player's league, which is why teams led by superstars always dominate the later rounds of the playoffs. But despite that inside track, it's harder than you'd think for MVP Award winners to also bring home the Larry O'Brien Trophy in the summer.
Only a handful of NBA players have ever done it, and odds are you've heard of them all before.
Bob Cousy, Boston Celtics
Cousy is the first NBA player to have won the double-dip, doing so in 1956-57, just the second year the award was given out. Cousy played in 13 NBA All-Star Games, but this was his only MVP award, and it came at the start of Boston's incredible run of nine NBA championships in 10 seasons. Cousy retired in 1963, in the middle of Boston's dynasty run, and immediately went into college coaching.
Bill Russell, Boston Celtics (4-time winner)
They don't come any more decorated than Russell, who won five MVP awards and 11 championships as a player for the Celtics. Russell's Boston teams set a standard that seems almost impossible to break in the modern era of basketball -- only Michael Jordan has come close to matching his run of success. Russell was such a transformative player that his defense and style of play is widely credited for inspiring the block to become an official NBA statistic.
Wilt Chamberlain, Philadelphia 76ers
Chamberlain won four MVP awards, but only once in a season when he brought home the championship. In 1966-67, Chamberlain's Philadelphia 76ers beat the San Francisco Warriors in the NBA Finals, ending Boston's eight-year run of consecutive championships. In 1972, he added a second ring to his accomplished career -- that time with the Los Angeles Lakers.
Willis Reed, New York Knicks
New York will never forget Reed, who willed the Knicks to the franchise's first NBA championship. A regular source of double-doubles, Reed battled through tendinitis and other injuries that plagued his professional career. But that set the stage for one of the league's most inspiring performances: In 1970, Reed fought through a torn thigh muscle to play in Game 7 of the NBA Finals. Reed only scored two baskets in the game against the Lakers, but his presence provided an emotional boost that many credit for the victory, and the title in his MVP season.
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Milwaukee Bucks and Los Angeles Lakers (2-time winner)
Abdul-Jabbar is the only person on this list to win an MVP and title in the same season for two different teams. The first time, in 1970-71, came with the Milwaukee Bucks. He did it again in 1979-80 when he and Magic Johnson won the first of five NBA titles for the Lakers. In total, Abdul-Jabbar won six MVP awards, all while patenting his famous skyhook.
Moses Malone, Philadelphia 76ers
After winning the MVP the previous season with the Houston Rockets, Malone joined the 76ers and continued his dominant play. He won a second straight MVP award in 1982-83. But this time, on a team that had lost the NBA Finals in six games the previous season, Malone joined forces with Julius Erving and Maurice Cheeks to push Philadelphia over the hump. His back-to-back MVP awards with two different teams have only been matched by one other athlete in major American sports: Barry Bonds.
Larry Bird, Boston Celtics (2-time winner)
Bird was unstoppable in the mid-1980s, winning three straight MVP awards. In two of those seasons, he also brought a championship back to Boston. The second iteration of that achievement, in 1985-86, occurred with a team that many consider to be the greatest of the decade, and one of the great NBA teams of all-time.
Magic Johnson, Los Angeles Lakers
If it wasn't Bird's Celtics winning the championship, it was Magic's Lakers in the 1980s. It wasn't until the end of that decade that Johnson started winning Most Valuable Player awards, but he caught up to his peers quickly, winning three in four seasons. But only once did that MVP trophy coincide with a championship. In 1986-87, the Lakers dispensed of the Celtics in six games. It was a weird year on both sides: The previous summer, Boston's top draft pick, Len Bias, died of a cocaine overdose just two days after the draft. Johnson's Lakers, meanwhile, had added Mychal Thompson that year, becoming the first and -- so far -- only NBA team to feature four No. 1 overall picks on a single roster.
Michael Jordan, Chicago Bulls (4-time winner)
Six times Jordan led the Bulls to the NBA championship, and four times he brought home an MVP trophy, too. In fact, Jordan's history differs from many of the others on this list in that the vast majority of his MVP awards came during championship seasons. Only once, in 1987-88, was he named MVP without winning it all. One interesting note: Between Bird, Magic and MJ, the trio dominated the NBA's MVP award for a nine-year stretch.
Hakeem Olajuwon, Houston Rockets
Olajuwon won the MVP award in 1993-94, and in doing so became the first MVP winner who wasn't born in the United States (Steve Nash and Dirk Nowitzki are the only other foreigners to win). With Jordan out of the league, Olajuwon's Rockets took advantage of the opportunity. Houston outlasted the New York Knicks in the NBA Finals that year, and added on a second straight title the following season, in 1995.
Shaquille O'Neal, Los Angeles Lakers
It's amazing, in hindsight, that Shaq only one a single MVP Award in his successful, dominant NBA career. The year he did win, he won it convincingly, with only a single voter not ranking him first on their ballot. After outlasting the Portland Trail Blazers in one of the best conference finals series in NBA history, Shaq's Lakers beat the Indiana Pacers in six games.
Tim Duncan, San Antonio Spurs
Duncan is the first person on this list who isn't already a member of the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame. That'll change some day, though, and not just because of the 2002-03 season, in which Duncan won the MVP and led the Spurs to the championship. That MVP award was Duncan's second straight, and San Antonio's championship broke a string of three straight wins by the Lakers. Duncan went on to amass five total championships, but that was the last MVP win for "The Big Fundamental."
LeBron James, Miami Heat (2-time winner)
When James joined the Heat, his performance on the court seemed to kick up another notch. Maybe it was due to joining forces with Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, or maybe it was just the case of an all-time great hitting the pinnacle of his success.
Whatever the case may be, nobody was challenging James as the league's best player during his four years in Miami. For two straight seasons, James handily won the MVP award while guiding his team to the NBA championship. Of course, he hasn't fared so well back in Cleveland -- and his status as the face of the NBA is being challenged by a baby-faced newcomer ...
Stephen Curry, Golden State Warriors
Nobody saw Curry's MVP season coming last year. But under the leadership of new coach Steve Kerr, Curry thrived, setting new records for three-point shooting and edging out James for the MVP -- and then doing the same against LeBron in the NBA Finals. This year, Curry managed to one-up his own performance this season, and in doing so became the league's first unanimous MVP winner. If Curry wins the title again this year, he'll join Russell, Jordan and James as the only players to accomplish the feat in consecutive years. But he'll have to take down a two-timer to do it. Even after a 73-win season, that won't be easy.