Yesterday marked the first occasion of what will be an annual event – the National Basketball Players Association (NBPA) ‘Basketball Players Awards’. First teased in April by NBPA Executive Director Michele Roberts, the event – held in Las Vegas, but airing nationally on BET – represents the first opportunity for players to acknowledge the excellence of their peers, following in the tradition of The Emmy Awards, The Grammy Awards and The Academy Awards.
Speaking in anticipation of the event earlier this year, the NBPA’s Roberts said, “Our players have long wanted to recognize greatness from within their own ranks, and with the first-ever Basketball Players Awards we have created a vehicle for them to do so. The level of participation from players in the voting process has been overwhelming so far and we are looking forward to unveiling all of the results this July in Las Vegas.”
Some of the awards presented last night seem like they were ripped directly from barbershop or water cooler conversations – awards like “Hardest To Guard”, “Clutch Performer”, and “Player You Secretly Wish Was on Your Team” put to rest incessant media speculation and accounted for what advanced metrics never could. Taking votes directly from the league’s players, some of the usual suspects, guys like Stephen Curry and NBA players union Vice President Lebron James received awards for some of their on court intangibles that fans and the media might not otherwise recognize.
Paul Pierce, the destined Hall of Fame player for his tenure with the Celtics, signed with the Los Angeles Clippers in the off-season, and became teammates with the first ever recipients of the “Oscar Robertson Visionary Award” and the “Best Defender” award – union President Chris Paul and Deandre Jordan, respectively. Speaking about the ceremony, the 17-year veteran and 2008 NBA Finals MVP said, “I think that this is awesome. Players are moving in a whole other direction, showing what we can do when we put our minds to it. You see all these other award shows — the ESPYs, the BET awards. Players thought about it and said, ‘Why not us have one.’ We have our choices for All-Stars, we have our choice for MVP, but we don’t get our chance to voice that. And I think here at the Players’ Awards we get our chance to voice our opinion of who was the best team or best crowd or best player, and I think it’s great.”
Perhaps the biggest moment of the evening came when the “Most Valuable Player” award was announced, and unlike the league’s decision in June, this time the players selected James Harden – who was locked in a fierce battle for the award during the season, before ultimately placing second behind Stephen Curry during the season.
“All I know is that the [players] have a sense of who they respect and whose game they respect, in a way that the media can’t possibly know, because the media hasn’t played with these guys,” said Roberts. “So it’s an interesting, different perspective. I don’t want to say that one’s better than the other. It’s up to you. But it’s interesting to me to hear what the players have to say about their brothers.”
A very special moment during the presentation came when former NBA superstar and league MVP Allen Iverson received the “Game-Changer Honor”, acknowledging his contributions to the league and the sport. Echoing the sentiments of players throughout the night, Iverson galvanized the feeling of the night during his acceptance speech when he said, “This is one of the most special awards I’ve ever received because it comes from y’all”, as he spoke to the players in attendance.