As a lifelong hoops head, attending the NBA Awards is a bit of a surreal experience. I ran into Nick Anderson, and the 15-year-old Orlando Magic fan buried deep within me had to resist the urge to um … “talk to him” about missing those four free throws in the 1995 NBA Finals. Speaking with NBA Hall of Famer Isiah Thomas elicited a far more favorable reaction. We discussed the polarizing legacy of the Detroit Pistons’ Bad Boys era in comparison to the doom and gloom that recently befell the Golden State Warriors.
Each of these moments, and many others over the course of the night, are a direct reflection of the rapport that the NBA has cultivated with its fanbase. Major League Baseball doesn’t exactly endear itself to black audiences, and many of us haven’t watched an NFL game since Colin Kaepernick got Kaepernicked. But aside from its entertainment value, the NBA is more progressive than the other major professional sports leagues in America.
“I think the NBA has been very progressive,” Dallas Mavericks CEO Cynthia Marshall, the first black woman CEO of an NBA franchise, told The Root. “About pushing for people of color, about pushing for women. [NBA Commissioner] Adam Silver has made tremendous strides. We understand the business case for diversity. And it is not just about diversity, it’s about intentions. I feel so welcome. I feel like I belong. The NBA is the place to be.”
And the 2019 NBA Awards were the perfect way to commemorate the season that was.
After a brief cameo by Chris Tucker, host Shaquille O’Neal kicked off the show with a remixed rendition of Migos’ “Stir Fry” before segueing into his opening monologue. Blending the affability of Jimmy Kimmel with the malice of 50 Cent, the four-time NBA champion ripped into foes like Washington Wizards center Dwight Howard (“I call myself ‘the Man of Steel.’ He calls himself ‘The Man of Still Hurt.’”) and dismissed Drake as the Toronto Raptors mascot.
Presenters such as Issa Rae, Tiffany Haddish and This Is Us heartthrob Justin Hartley graced the stage over the course of the evening, accompanied by the next generation of future NBA superstars in players such as Atlanta Hawks sharpshooter Trae Young and recent New York Knicks draftee RJ Barrett.
Other highlights of the night included Utah Jazz guard Mike Conley becoming the first player to ever win both Twyman-Stokes Teammate of the Year and the Sportsmanship Award; Washington Wizards guard Bradley Beal encouraging everyone to “please give back to the youth” after taking home the NBA Community Assist Award; and Good Morning America anchor Robin Roberts winning the Sager Strong Award—which honors the memory of legendary TNT reporter Craig Sager—for her tremendous strength and perseverance in prevailing against myelodysplastic syndrome.
“I am honored and I am grateful for this recognition,” Roberts said. “For everyone who has said a prayer for me, thank you, bless you, and right back at you.”
Another highlight came when comedian Jay Pharoah delivered a hilarious impersonation of Shaquille O’Neal, which surprised even me since I’ve been completely over Pharoah’s shtick for years.
But the highlight of the night came when NBA superstar Giannis Antetokounmpo finally accomplished Kobe Bryant’s challenge and became the third-youngest player to be named Most Valuable Player in the last 40 years.
“Two years ago I had the goal in my head,” Antetokounmpo said through tears. “That I’m going to be the best player in the league and I’m going to do whatever it takes to help my team win. And I’m going to win everything.”
All in all, it was a great evening and congratulations to each of the winners.
For a full list, hit up NBA.com.