Kevin Durant raised the hackles of some media members back in February, when he said during an All-Star Weekend interview session that he believes NBA players should have votes that count in the process of determining the league's end-of-season awards — Most Valuable Player, Rookie of the Year, Defensive Player of the Year, etc. — because players have more insight on who deserves what than the media members whose ballots have decided these honors for the past three decades. He and his fellow players won't quite get that, but thanks to their union leadership, their voices will soon be heard.
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According to a National Basketball Players Association memo obtained by Sam Amick of USA TODAY Sports, union executive director Michele Roberts and company have launched a new year-end celebration called "the Players Choice Awards" that will allow those who suit up and battle it out on the hardwood from October through June to recognize the accomplishments of their peers. More from Amick:
The memo, which was obtained by USA TODAY Sports, stated that anonymous votes will be cast and the winners will be announced at a summer meeting in Las Vegas. The media has voted on NBA awards since the 1980-81 season.
"This program was created at your request to recognize outstanding performance of your peers, on and off the court," Roberts wrote. "No one knows better than you what it takes to shine." [...]
Roberts indicated in the memo that MVP is among the awards that will be voted on, and there is a "Man of the Year" award as well that will honor a player's efforts in the community.
A look at a snippet of that memo, courtesy of Nicki Jhabvala of the Denver Post:
— Nicki Jhabvala (@NickiJhabvala) April 8, 2015
"Been working on it for a while," said Cavs forward James Jones, who serves as the team's union rep. "Something players have been interested in doing for a long time. I think it probably would have been done a lot earlier but we've been in transition as far as a union staff and our front office. It's something that's pretty exciting for the players because it just gives the players a voice and an opportunity to interact and make their opinions known to the fan. It's really about the fans."
I'm not sure it's about the fans as much as it's about the players. Durant, Stephen Curry, Manu Ginobili and others have all expressed support for players having at least some say in who gets year-end hardware, because players feel that they've got more accurate and better informed opinions about who's best at what than those of us who watch from press boxes or at home. Creating a Players Choice Awards ceremony to honor the players that they players think are the best seems like a pretty players-focused affair. (You can tell by how many times "players" shows up there.)
That said ... I mean, sure, why not?
Maybe the players' ballots wind up being surprisingly similar to media members, and we all find a bit of common ground in what's becoming an increasingly contentious relationship in some places. Maybe things are as different as we suspect, which is fine, because the players still get to make their voices heard, and we wind up integrating the Players Choice Awards with the "official" league awards to get a varied and perhaps fuller perspective on which players and teams were appreciated most by different audiences — as Deadspin's Kyle Wagner notes, it's not like the presence of actors, directors and writers guild awards renders the Oscars redundant or meaningless. (Provided you care about the awards in the first place, of course.)
Maybe it becomes a popularity contest in which inarguably and venerated gifted players whose individual talents might not always have contributed to the best team ball — say, Allen Iverson or late-model Kobe Bryant — get praised by their peers for the simple fact that being so individually good is really, really impressive. Maybe it becomes a negotiating point in future discussions between the union and league about how awards voting is conducted — because, obviously, Roberts and NBA Commissioner Adam Silver don't have enough to talk about already — or maybe we wind up seeing agents start pushing for teams to include Players Choice Awards when structuring incentive clauses for players' contracts.
Wherever this new development winds up leading, it's another sign that, under Roberts' leadership, the players' union is aiming to do everything it can to get as much of its membership feeling happy, positive, satisfied and engaged. How historically significant these awards wind up being remains to be seen — I wonder if we'll be referencing PCAs when considering players' Hall of Fame resumes down the line — but if creating them and giving them out helps Roberts drum up even more support among membership for the way the union's running, it could wind up being a positive-vibes boon in advance of 2017's collective bargaining agreement negotiations. And if a few sportswriters' noses wind up out of joint about it, well, that's a small price to pay for solidarity, right?
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