Culture of Hoops

NBPA Starts ‘Players Choice Awards’

Image courtesy of Erik Daniel Drost/Flickr.

Image courtesy of Erik Daniel Drost/Flickr.

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Professional athletes often claim that sports media pundits don’t know what they are talking about. Now NBA players are going to show us things as they really are by anonymously voting for their own awards in the first ever “Players Choice Awards.” NBPA Executive Director Michele Roberts announced the new initiative via an internal memo to members  of the Players Association. The winners will be divulged in Las Vegas during summer meetings although it is unknown what categories will be voted on outside of MVP and Man of the Year, an award believed to be tied to efforts in community engagement.

Why is this happening? That’s unclear. No explanation was given by Roberts in the memo announcing the Players Choice Awards. The easy assumption is that Kevin Durant simply said what every other player was thinking during this year’s All-Star weekend, “You guys really don’t know s**t.” Maybe it is that simple. Winning awards is all about narratives. Which ones are the most compelling? Easiest to understand? Most exciting?

Steve Nash winning back-to-back MVPs remains a black stain on the media’s judgment. Derrick Rose winning over LeBron James is a testament to the hate for the Heat, not an indication of Rose’s superiority over James who won four out of five MVPs between 2008-09 and 2012-13 seasons. A more hilarious example is Karl Malone winning the 1996-97 MVP over Michael Jordan, which Bill Simmons attributed to voter fatigue (“Jordan, again? Forget that! Anyone else!”) and Jackie MacMullan’s convincing column on Malone’s candidacy originally posted for Sports Illustrated on March 17, 1997. Like it or not, the regular season awards are won in columns and blogs, not the court.

An easy way to show this is to look at Russell Westbrook‘s MVP consideration for this year. No one was advocating Westbrook for MVP before his slew of triple doubles. For whatever reason, people love triple doubles. They don’t mean anything but are heralded as some definite indication of a player’s prowess. Should a triple double even count if you lose the game?  The cacophony of praise for Westbrook’s triple doubles was so loud that you probably didn’t notice that the Oklahoma City Thunder just slipped out of the playoffs behind the New Orleans Pelicans. Is that Westbrook’s fault alone? No, but isn’t making the playoffs one of the imaginary requisites for MVP candidates? Highlights. Slow motion. Screaming to show passion.

Commercials. Columns featuring how awesome you are.

More screaming.

That’s how you win MVP and other awards voted on by the media. Westbrook is freaking amazing but he doesn’t deserve MVP. He blows games late. Gambles way too much on defense. Consistently gets blown out against championship contenders when Durant is out. Love the guy to death, and his charitable work in the local Oklahoma City community (definitely watch this video if you haven’t seen it yet), but voting him first as MVP is indefensible this year because of other worthy recipients. Some people have seen this as an upcoming divide between traditional media outlets and the NBA players. There are already subtle jabs being thrown out there that Michele Roberts is hurting the NBPA with the Players Choice Awards that will reverberate through the inevitable, upcoming lockout.

The media is not made of robots with complete objectivity. Unfortunately, the blame for lockouts is mostly swayed by the opinion repeated the most in the media. Will the media really hold a grudge because the players want to voice their own opinion on who deserves regular season awards? For this alone, no. There have been various slights thrown at the media by Roberts and players, but we won’t know how this will affect the big picture until the ticking clock gets closer to Doomsday.

Forget the potential negative consequences for a moment. Won’t it be fun to see how the media and player awards compare to one another? How different will the outcome of the Defensive Player of the Year Awards be? Will players vote themselves for MVP (we will never know this but the speculation will be fun)? The comparisons over five years should tell us a lot about how differently players and media evaluate exceptional performances.

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