The Michael Jordan Trophy: NBA MVP renamed after the Greatest Player of All-Time

It appears as if the NBA has decided to settle the Great GOAT Debate.

And who better to cast the final vote.

The envelope please. And the winner is...

Michael Jordan!

And the crowd doesn’t go wild. Because most of us already knew.

The NBA Tuesday offered some endorsement and confirmation by announcing that the league’s Most Valuable Player now will get the trophy named for Michael Jordan.

It’s no secret that the NBA’s most prestigious and valued individual award is Most Valuable Player. It annually designates the best player in the best basketball league in the world, the one player who most towers above everyone else for that season. Every MVP who is eligible has been enshrined in the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame.

So it’s not a reach to suggest that the NBA by renaming the MVP award for Michael Jordan also sees Jordan as the figure to represent the best in the game.

The MVP formerly received the Maurice Podoloff trophy, which now becomes the award for the annual NBA regular season best record named for the first commissioner.

“It’s appropriate the NBA has chosen to name the Most Valuable Player trophy for Michael Jordan, whose image on the iconic statue is celebrated in Chicago as, 'The best there ever was. The best there ever will be.’ The Bulls franchise and the city were honored to witness the journey to validation and victory of this tenacious ultimate competitor,” Bulls managing partner Jerry Reinsdorf said in a statement for Bulls.com. “It is proper the trophy symbolically depicts his remarkable ascent to the pinnacle of the sports world to also provide the inspiration to others which defined his incomparable career.”

The retitling of the MVP trophy comes in a series of league award name changes that seem to represent who these players were.

The All-Star game MVP was named for Kobe Bryant, who was one of the great showmen of the game and someone who always stood out among his fellow stars. The Finals MVP was named for Bill Russell, the winningest team player of all time who represented the best in team excellence that led to championships. The Coach of the Year is named for the great strategist and winner Red Auerbach. The respective MVPs in each conference finals were named for Larry Bird and Magic Johnson, whose rivalry in dominating their conferences was responsible for much of the massive growth of the NBA. The social justice award is named for civil rights advocate Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, the sportsmanship award for classy Joe Dumars and the Teammate of the Year award for the remarkable pair of Jack Twyman and Maurice Stokes.

The NBA Tuesday also announced new names for the Defensive Player trophy (Hakeem Olajuwon), the Rookie of the Year trophy (Wilt Chamberlain), the Sixth Man of the Year trophy (John Havlicek), the Most Improved Player trophy (George Mikan), and Jerry West for the new Clutch Player trophy.

There is a lesson in league history in the legacies of each of those players that led to their names being ascribed to the trophies which designate their excellence and achievement.

So it’s fitting that when the NBA each year honors its best it’s in association with the name Michael Jordan.

But it’s not because Jordan has the most MVP awards. That’s Abdul-Jabbar with six. Jordan won five times to match Russell. LeBron James and Wilt Chamberlain were named four times. Moses Malone, Bird and Magic each won three times. That’s generally considered the pantheon of excellence in NBA history.

NBA Commissioner David Stern presents Michael Jordan with the 1998 Most Valuable Player Trophy.

Jordan won six championships with the Bulls, those coming in eight seasons between 1991 and 1998 around a 19-month sabbatical to play baseball in the Chicago White Sox minor league system. Russell was on the most championship teams with 11. Many of his teammates because of his presence have won between seven and 10 titles. Jordan, teammate Scottie Pippen and Abdul-Jabbar come after that group with six titles each. Robert Horry as mostly a role player on three teams squeezes in with seven.

So there’s no precise statistical measure be it points—now held by Abdul-Jabbar with James second and Karl Malone third—championships or MVP awards that determines the best player of alltime. Greatest of All Time, as the acronym goes, is something of a mythical designation because there is no statistical or scientific method or official voting process. 

It’s generally considered something of a blend of the so called eye test, that you know what you see, an accumulation of statistics and triumphs and large parts emotion about who means the most and has had the most impact.

The most recent debate generally involves Jordan and James.

It’s previously been about Jordan and Bryant, Magic and Bird, Russell and Chamberlain, Abdul-Jabbar and Chamberlain, Oscar Robertson and Jerry West. Pick your favorite.

Now the NBA steps forward as an arbiter.

The Most Valuable Player trophy, the NBA’s most important individual award, the honor which designates the game’s greatest player at any time, is now being named for Michael Jordan.

That sounds like a tiebreaking vote.

The bronze trophy features an NBA player breaking out of a rock to reach for the ultimate rock – a crystal basketball.

Jordan also has contributed a nice touch my requesting the award not be in his likeness, but represent the journey for the winner, which we were fortunate to witness in Chicago.

Not that much wasn’t expected since Jordan was an NCAA champion at the University of North Carolina and star of the 1984 gold medal winning USA Basketball team. But it was an era of centers in the NBA and Jordan was not the No. 1 pick in the NBA draft. Guards had never been the dominant player on a championship team and two centers were selected before him. As much as the brilliant shooting of Stephen Curry has change the arc of talent in the NBA, it was Jordan’s impact which got teams believing they could link up a scoring guard with winning a championship.

It truly was a journey for Jordan, enduring the potholes and flat tires of despair and disappointment on the road to success. He was denied by the greats of the game, Bird, Johnson, Isiah Thomas. The narrative became you needed a facilitating scorer, someone in the popular cliche to “make others better,” to win titles, like Bird and Magic. Even like Thomas with his partisans and artisans. In Jordan’s first six years in the NBA, Bird and Johnson won five of the MVP awards.

Jordan snuck one in during 1987-88 by producing one of the greatest statistical seasons in NBA history, averaging more points in a season than everyone but Chamberlain and winning the Defensive Player of the Year at the same time. Jordan had to become the only player to win DPOY and the scoring title in the same year to wrestle that MVP away from Bird or Johnson.

Jordan also suffered annual playoff disappointments, often in cruel and unusual ways, in his journey with the Bulls in attempting to overcome and dethrone the rival Detroit Pistons. The Bulls and Jordan finally did in 1991 after multiple disappointments, and once they did there was no stopping them for six championships in the decade. Only the Celtics compiled a superior decade of titles.

Jordan was named MVP four times in the 1990s, and it’s still debated why he didn’t win the other two full seasons he played during that era.

It became an historic and rewarding journey, which is what Jordan’s career often meant to him, and which the trophy now suitably symbolizes.

Though there is plenty of Jordan subtly placed in the trophy in the creative alliance between Jordan and Nike designer Mark Smith, who worked with Jordan on the trophy.

According to the NBA’s announcement:

              The announcement adds that the bronze trophy: "Features an NBA player breaking out of a rock to reach for the ultimate rock – a crystal basketball.  From the bottom to its top, the patina of the trophy grows more burnished – “raw to refined” – signifying the MVP’s hard work and progression from entering the league to achieving the NBA’s greatest individual honor.  The trophy’s reach symbolizes an MVP’s endless chase for greatness.”

              “As we worked together on this project, it was very important to Michael that the figure not be a likeness of him, but instead that the recipient should be able to see himself in the award,” Nike’s Smith said for the NBA announcement. "For Michael, naming the award in his honor was recognition enough.”

              Just how the GOAT figured to represent.

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