Los Angeles Clippers guard Chauncey Billups became the first-ever recipient of the NBA's Twyman-Stokes Teammate of the Year Award on Sunday, as first reported by Yahoo! Sports NBA columnist Marc J. Spears.
"I pride myself in being a good human being and a good teammate, and obviously this is a Teammate of the Year Award, but I think more importantly, it's about just being a good person," the five-time All-Star and 2004 NBA Finals MVP said after receiving the award.
Billups received the award in a ceremony before Game 2 of the NBA Finals between the Miami Heat and San Antonio Spurs at AmericanAirlines Arena in Miami on Sunday. NBA players selected the 16-year veteran as the inaugural winner of the award, "which recognizes the NBA player deemed the best teammate based on selfless play, on and off-court leadership as a mentor and role model to other NBA players, and his commitment and dedication to his team," according to the league. The NBA will make a $25,000 donation to the charity of Billups' choice in recognition of the honor.
"I can't think of a player who is more deserving and who embodies the virtues of this award than our first-ever recipient," NBA Commissioner David Stern said Sunday. "He is a leader, a selfless player who has rightfully earned the trust and respect of his teammates throughout his career."
Billups was one of 12 finalists, six from each conference, selected by "a panel of NBA legends" and presented to NBA players for voting. Each voter could cast a ballot for five players — though they were not able to vote for one of their own teammates, which seems kind of odd considering it's an award honoring players who are good teammates, but we digress — with first-place votes worth 10 points, second-place votes worth seven points, third-place votes worth five points, fourth-place votes worth three points and fifth-place votes worth one point.
Billups received 1,543 total points, including 64 first-place votes. Miami Heat forward and Finals participant Shane Battier earned more first-place votes (79) but finished with a lower overall point total, placing second with 1,324 points. Recently retired New York Knicks guard (and, apparently, Brooklyn Nets head-coaching hopeful) Jason Kidd came in third with 1,048 points (42 first-place votes).
The other nine finalists, in order of their finish in voting: Golden State Warriors guard Jarrett Jack, Jerry Stackhouse of the Brooklyn Nets, Manu Ginobili of the San Antonio Spurs, Denver Nuggets forward Andre Iguodala, Luke Walton of the Cleveland Cavaliers, New Orleans Hornets guard Roger Mason Jr., Indiana Pacers center Roy Hibbert, Oklahoma City Thunder power forward Serge Ibaka and Washington Wizards center Emeka Okafor.
Since reports began circulating on Friday that the NBA would planned to unveil a new annual award before Game 2 of the NBA Finals, with fans and reporters wondering which new honor the league had chosen to add its suite of year-end accolades. Guesses ranged from the plausible (Offensive Player of the Year?) to the preposterous (check the #NewNBAAward joke hashtag). The speculation ended Sunday afternoon, though, when NBA.com's Steve Aschburner reported that it would be the Twyman-Stokes Teammate of the Year Award
The award bears the names of NBA legends Jack Twyman and Maurice Stokes, who played together on the Rochester and Cincinnati Royals in the 1950s and whose bond as teammates extended far beyond the hardwood.
“What better way to honor the life-long bond that developed between Jack Twyman and Maurice Stokes than by naming this award after them,” Stern said. “The Twyman-Stokes Teammate of the Year Award recognizes friendship and selflessness among teammates and celebrates the legacy of Jack and Maurice.”
BDL Editor Kelly Dwyer wrote about the unique friendship between Twyman and Stokes after Twyman died last May at age 78:
[...] Twyman acted as former teammate Maurice Stokes' caretaker for the last 12 years of Stokes' life, after the former Royals forward suffered significant brain damage during an injury sustained in the final game of the 1957-58 season, cutting short a promising career (to say the absolute least) that saw Stokes average a combined 33.7 points/rebounds a contest for the Royals.
Worse, with Stokes' family hundreds of miles away and workers compensation failing to cover the costs of his care in the years before the NBA developed a strong union and significant pension plan, Stokes was just about left to his own devices as he grew more and more destitute. This is where Twyman came in, organizing fundraisers for his former teammate, visiting him weekly, and essentially acting as his caretaker (while working as an NBA All-Star, while running his own insurance company in the NBA's offseason, and while working as ABC's lead color analyst) until Stokes' passing in 1970.
Stern said Sunday that the idea to create the new award "was born of the Twyman Stokes story, occasioned by Jack's passing" and became something "very meaningful to us in the [league] office."
"It was such an important story, because we tiptoe around it, but the notion in or about 1960 or there about, of a white player caring for a black player was really something that was not [...] this was at a time when we probably weren't far removed from teammates being separated because some had to stay in different hotels and eat in different restaurants," Stern said. " And it just dawned on us that this was a story worth retelling, because it was so compassionate and so very much at the essence, we'd like to think, of one man caring for another. And so we decided that we would do it. And if you're the boss, you say, 'OK, let's do this.' And here we are."
Twyman was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 1983. Twenty-one years later, Stokes received the same honor — after years of lobbying from his dedicated teammate and friend.
During his acceptance speech, Billups recognized the Twyman family and expressed gratitude at being able to place his name alongside those of Twyman and Stokes in the annals of NBA history, even if he "really [doesn't] feel worthy" of such an honor.
"As you guys know, I never had the opportunity and the pleasure to meet your father, but obviously he was a great man for the sacrifice that he made for Mr. Stokes," Billups said. "This is an unbelievable honor for me just to have my name alongside Mr. Twyman, and I think it's awesome that the NBA would now start to honor him every single year, because I think even older players like myself to the younger guys need to know the story. They need to know the story."
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