The way we felt leading up to this thing was justifiable. It was hard not knowing who won the NBA’s individual awards at the times we are used to—throughout the first round of the playoffs, with MVP coming in the early second.
Once the Conference Finals came around, no one cared. The league MVP had either shot his team out of the playoffs in a five-game quickie, or delivered the biggest elimination game no-show in recent history. One Defensive Player of the Year candidate had shut down the entire Utah Jazz roster, while another spun around twice trying to guard the first candidate’s teammate. Most people had forgotten who Malcolm Brogdon was.
Coming off the NBA Finals—and then the NBA draft—the show seemed anti-climatic. We had just seen one of the greatest teams of all-time cap off a 16-1 playoff run, Kevin Durant beat LeBron James, Jimmy Butler get traded to the Timberwolves and the next generation of stars get dispersed across the league. “Okay, now let’s go back and talk about how Eric Gordon was really hot for the first three months of the season.”
We were wrong, though. The awards were fun. We—or, if others aren’t ready to admit this, I—realized some things that were hard to realize before actually experiencing this event.
- Announcing the awards live on TV is not anti-climatic. Anti-climatic is randomly checking twitter on a Tuesday in late April and seeing that Mike D’Antoni won Coach of the Year.
- We forget quickly. No one was still so focused on the Finals or the Draft that they were not able to enjoy another NBA event.
- The NBA season used to end with one team hoisting a trophy. That’s no travesty, but it is fitting that the most camaraderie-filled, culturally cohesive league ends with a wider celebration.
With that said, it was Year 1. That means there were problems. It doesn’t mean there won’t be problems moving forward, but we should treat the 2017 inaugural show as a pilot.
1. If we are actually going to give awards to individual plays, actually show us those plays.
Here is the video the NBA released in April, announcing the nominees for Dunk of the Year.
Now, here’s what they showed at the NBA Awards last night.
Imagine you hadn’t seen that first video, or ever seen these dunks before. You might have a general sense that Victor Oladipo double-pumped, Larry Nance went up high and Zach LaVine posterized some tall white guy, but would you know what any of these dunks actually looked like?
2. Matter fact, do a better job announcing all nominees.
The lack of a clear angle on those dunks was not the night’s most egregious example of a bad highlight reel. The clips for “Game-Winner of the Year” failed to tell us time and score of the game—things that kind of matter for that award. “Performance of the Year” flashed minimal stat lines in small print.
This problem seeped into the real awards, too. Rather than giving us an MVP resume for Russell Westbrook, James Harden and Kawhi Leonard, we saw the same highlight reel twice—once spread out, once put together—chalk full of literal echoes of each player’s season. “Triple-double double double…” “But look at HARDEN’s numbers numbers numbers…”
The league needs to give its audience some credit. The lack of any statistics and context to back any candidate’s candidacy for any award—the biggest exception was, hilariously, Coach of the Year—does not serve anyone. For serious fans, it is empty and insulting. For casual fans, it is uninformative and confusing.
3. Put Shaq, Kenny, Charles and Ernie in the crowd.
Inside the NBA works because it is a studio show in which retired players discuss the game and shoot the shit from the confines of TNT’s Atlanta studio. They are not a traveling live comedy troupe, and that’s why their act fell flat in New York.
The most cringeworthy moment was when Ernie Johnson put Charles Barkley on the spot, asking him to pronounce Giannis Antetokounmpo. I’ll spare you a youtube clip, or even a description.
4. Get Drake some better ghostwriters.
It isn’t that Drake was a bad choice to host. He’s close with many of the league’s current stars, an arbiter of NBA culture and a pretty funny guy. But his forced, scripted jokes, his botched interview with Draymond Green and his skits (other than the on-point Steph/Ayesha “Get Out” parody) were struggle bars.
Drake should host next year’s show too, and just do a better job of it.
To be fair, his best comment of the night—when he threw it back to Ernie, Shaq, Charles and Kenny-in-debt Smith—was so off-the-cuff that no one seemed to catch it.
5. Act like the playoffs happened.
Again, the show was not anti-climatic. Everyone seemed to enjoy going back and celebrating the 2016-17 season one last time before the offseason really gets underway. However, part of that season was, you know, the playoffs. The thing in which the Golden State Warriors won the championship, two-time MVP Stephen Curry played better basketball than he ever had before, LeBron James made his seventh-straight finals appearance, the Boston Celtics beat the Washington Wizards in an epic seven-game series and the Utah Jazz ended the Clippers as we know them.
Kevin Durant, the guy who just dominated the sport at its highest level for the past two months and asserted himself back into the best player in the world conversation, was only mentioned once: When he beat out Isaiah Thomas and John Wall for “Best Playoff Moment.” Instead of discussing the legendary shot that he won it for, or at least briefly mentioning his transcendent NBA Finals, Barkley and O’Neal sat up there and talked about how Thomas probably should have won.
If we aren’t going to honor playoff excellence with anything more than a gimmicky fan-voted award, at least get those guys off the stage.