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Morgan Howen

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Hey Adam Silver, glossy new trophies won’t fix the NBA’s regular season

Two pretty good basketball players

Two pretty good basketball players
Photo: Getty Images

They say millennials are obsessed with trophies, but our elders have been expanding the ones propping up that industry. Commissioner Adam Silver’s quest to revitalize the regular season’s infrastructure has been his pet project for almost his entire eight-year stint. One day after Kawhi Leonard expressed his apathy for regular season hoops following an emphatic victory over the reigning Eastern Conference champions, the NBA unveiled new monikers for its previously lifeless regular season awards.

Channeling league legends as namesakes for the league’s most prestigious regular season awards instead of their corporate names, the Kia MVP Award, for example, isn’t unique. The Defensive Player of the Year being reimagined as the Hakeem Olajuwon Trophy won’t leave too many salty feelings because so many of the NBA’s legends don’t play defense anyways. Although four-time winner Ben Wallace could feel disrespected, the rest feel like they were decided in a corporate boardroom instead of by savvy hoopheads.

Let’s start with the Sixth Man of the Year award, (ahem!) by making it the John Havlicek Sixth Man of the Year Trophy.

How much money is the Boston Celtics lobby paying to get every one of their Hall of Famers on a trophy? The Bill Russell NBA Finals MVP award is an appropriate honor, but it still hasn’t been explained to me why Larry Bird is the Eastern Conference MVP’s namesake when LeBron James has been crowned king of the East a record nine times. [Editor’s note: Perhaps because The King is still active.]

John Havlicek’s contributions off the bench for those Red Auerbach-era Celtics are legendary, but the league has to begin spreading the ball around, metaphorically speaking. The NBA missed a prime opportunity to rename its award The Manu after the San Antonio Spurs’ long-time super-sub Manu Ginobili. The Manu has a ring to it and in 16 seasons, Ginobili started only 349 out of 1,057 total regular season games played. Ginobili was the consummate Sixth Man.

Michael Cooper was named to the All-Defensive Team eight teams, was a first-teamer five times, and won Defensive Player of the year in 1987 despite starting only two games in 82 appearances. Sure he’s a Laker and that somewhat undercuts my point about awards being named after players for the league’s marquee franchises, but it would serve a purpose by promoting the idea that every sixth man doesn’t have to be an undersized microwave scorer in the Vinnie Johnson mold. Lou Williams and Jamal Crawford are three-time Players of the Year, but they were two of the more inefficient scorers in the league. A “Coooooooop” Sixth Man of the Year trophy would have paid homage to a five-time champion and one of the most unselfish, blue-collar, premier non-scoring wings of a bygone era.

The Jerry West Clutch Player of the Year Trophy could have easily been the Michael Jordan Clutch Player of the Year award, but, it would have been more profound to rename the Clutch Player of the Year award after Kobe Bryant while allowing Jordan to have the MVP award. His resume speaks for itself.

As the only new award being introduced though, how the winner will be determined remains an enigma. Are voters examining analytics to calculate who was the best during NBA.com’s defined “clutch times?” or are more subjective criteria like buzzer-beaters made supposed to be used?

The criteria question pales to the most important oversight, Silver’s second round of redesigns corrected, which was the NBA’s decision to immortalize Michael Jordan as the NBA’s Most Valuable Player talisman.

Jordan was conspicuously missing from the first round of NBA playoff trophy renamings this summer. My colleague Stephen Knox suggested Jordan took that personally too, but today’s announcement explains why he probably didn’t. At his peak, Jordan was snubbed of several MVP awards he should have won. By renaming the annual MVP award, Jordan finally gets his flowers — and a leg up on LeBron James in the GOAT taffy pull.

Unfortunately, the redesign was too drastic. MVPs hoisting that block of hardware over their heads was iconic. The new joint resembles a Golden Globe and the specific measurements doubling as numerical allusions to Jordan’s number, titles and other stats suggest someone in the NBA’s corporate HQ has undiagnosed arithmomania. The math behind the trophy’s measurements is a nice touch, but nobody cares. If they’d brought back this hunk of bronze, and carve Jordan’s atop it, the reception would have been more positive. Ultimately, though, the league is trying to get fans to pay a little more attention to the regular season. This likely won’t change much, but it was worth a shot.

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