EXPLAINER: Inside the NBA’s process on changing trophies
There’s been an evolution of the NBA’s Most Valuable Player trophy in the 70 or so years since it was first dreamed up.
It used to be called the President’s Trophy. Players used to do the voting. In time, it all changed; the trophy was known as the Maurice Podoloff Trophy, and a media panel of 100 writers and broadcasters now handles the voting.
As of Tuesday, there’s a new trophy and a new name — The Michael Jordan Trophy. It’s loaded with tributes to his career, foremost among them that it weighs 23.6 pounds and stands 23.6 inches tall; the 23 for his jersey, the 6 for his six championships. That took some serious work on the design end, but in the end, it was exactly what Jordan and his team wanted.
It is the biggest move in a long line of trophy tweaks and twists by the NBA in recent years. A look:
WHY IS THE NBA RENAMING TROPHIES?
Commissioner Adam Silver has made clear, especially after the league went into the 2020 season restart bubble at Walt Disney World because of the pandemic, that the NBA needs to do even more to pay tribute to its greatest players — particularly some of the league’s Black players from a generation or two ago, whose stories may not necessarily resonate among younger fans of today.
Rebranding and redesigning is not an easy process, particularly in a league that considers itself to be steeped with tradition.
It was not a coincidence that the six new division championship trophies introduced late last season were named for Black pioneers of the game — Nat “Sweetwater” Clifton, Wayne Embry, Earl Lloyd, Willis Reed, Sam Jones and Chuck Cooper.
“I know that what we do in this league is important symbolically, not just for sports but for other industries, and people watch us all around the world,” Silver said at last season’s NBA Finals.
IS THIS A CONFLICT FOR JORDAN?
No, this is not a conflict for Jordan even though he owns the Charlotte Hornets. Jordan rarely enters the spotlight anymore and picks his spots very carefully; he did not want this trophy to be in his likeness, did not speak out about Tuesday’s announcement and rarely offers public comment on any topic.
The MVP trophy tends to be presented by the commissioner; it wouldn’t seem likely that Jordan would be called upon to do so, even though there is no rule — tampering-related or otherwise — that would prevent it.
The NBA asked Bill Russell to present the NBA Finals MVP trophy that bears his name and he did for many years, until the pandemic and his health prevented him from continuing that tradition. Russell died earlier this year.
HOW MANY NAMED TROPHIES DOES THE NBA HAVE?
It’s a lot. There’s the Larry O’Brien (NBA champions), the Jordan (MVP), the Russell (NBA Finals MVP), Red Auerbach (coach of the year), Joe Dumars (sportsmanship), Larry Bird and Magic Johnson (conference finals MVP’s), Kobe Bryant (All-Star MVP), and the six divisional trophies.
There’s also a slew of new or rebranded ones announced Tuesday — Hakeem Olajuwon (defensive player of the year), John Havlicek (sixth man), Wilt Chamberlain (rookie), and George Mikan (most improved). A new trophy this year is the Clutch Player of the Year, named for “Mr. Clutch” himself, Jerry West.
“There are few greater thrills as a basketball player than coming through for your teammates and fans when they need it most,” West said. “This new trophy will be awarded to the player who best delivers in those moments.”
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar has the league’s social justice champion trophy bearing his name, David Robinson the NBA Community Assist Monthly Award one, and Bob Lanier has the Community Assist season-long trophy.
WHO CHANGES THE NAMES?
This wasn’t one or two people. The league formed a group of about 20 people, from at least a half-dozen different departments, to meet and decide how to change the trophies and in some cases the namesake elements.
The process took several months, the league said.
It doesn’t seem right that David Stern — the league’s commissioner for 30 years, Silver’s predecessor and mentor and one of the people who basically helped saved the league from financial peril in the 1980’s — doesn’t have a trophy bearing his name.
If the league adds an in-season tournament, and there are plans in place to have one possibly as soon as next season, Stern would seem like a candidate for that trophy.
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