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The NBA unveils a new trophy, and may rename another

The new award seems designed to make the end of the season more meaningful. While having the league’s best record gets you home-court advantage throughout the playoffs, the league’s winningest team hasn’t won the championship since the Warriors in 2016-17. In the last 20 years, the best regular-season team has only won the championship six times. Especially after the Warriors set the single-season record for wins in 2016 and then lost in the Finals, teams are loath to push their players before the postseason.

In the NHL, the team with the most points in the regular season receives the President’s Trophy. That award started in 1985-86, but had precedent in the early Prince of Wales Trophy, awarded for the regular season champion from 1938-67. No word on whether the Maurice Podoloff Trophy will be accompanied by a cash bonus for the players, as the President’s Trophy does.

But there may be another reason for NBA commissioner Adam Silver to announce a new award. The league MVP trophy is also named after Podoloff, the NBA’s first league president and the man who oversaw the BAA-NBL merger that formed the modern NBA. That means the NBA trophy needs a new name.

As Brian Windhorst said on his podcast, Brian Windhorst and the Hoop Collective, “With all due respect to Maurice Podoloff and his descendants, I’m not sure he needs two trophies named after him.”

Silver has been aggressive in inventing and renaming trophies. Last year, the NBA gave out the Magic Johnson and Larry Bird Trophies for the first time, for the most outstanding player in each conference finals series. In 2020, he named the All-Star MVP trophy after Kobe Bryant, just after Bryant’s death in a helicopter crash. While Silver was deputy commissioner in 2005, the NBA named the Finals MVP award after 11-time champion Bill Russell.

Who would the new trophy be named after? It could be Stern, though Windhorst reports that Silver has strongly hinted that the winner of the NBA’s proposed midseason tournament would receive the “Stern Cup.”

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar has the most NBA MVPs with six, but the NBA honored him with the Kareem Abdul-Jabbar Social Justice Champion Award just last year. Bryant is very popular, but he won just one MVP trophy, compared to his four All-Star awards. Russell won five MVPs, as did another player who is most likely to see his name on the trophy: Michael Jordan.

Jordan is still a wildly popular player and still owns the Charlotte Hornets. There may not be a more respected former player than Jordan, widely recognized as the G.O.A.T. Jordan also could have easily had seven MVPs, as voters got sick of giving him the award every year, and gave trophies to Charles Barkley in 1993 and Karl Malone in 1997. MJ beat both in the Finals, and most likely took the snub “personally.”

It remains to be seen whether the new trophy will motivate teams to play harder and rest their stars less down the stretch, but one thing is certain: That MVP award is getting a new name.

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