Russell Westbrook took home the NBA Most Valuable Player award Monday night, over two months after his postseason ended at the hands of MVP finalist James Harden and the Houston Rockets. The NBA gambled by announcing its regular season awards after the conclusion of the Finals, and while the excitement over the MVP race certainly died down by the time the award was announced, the actual show was...not that bad!
Let’s focus on the show itself before we get into the whole timing aspect. Canadian rapper Drake hosted the proceedings, and he performed fairly well. Drake kept the show moving along, his jokes weren’t too tame, and he tried his best to leverage his relationships with players into comedic moments. Drake did stumble on the timing on a couple of his jokes—he moved too fast—which is actually kind of surprising considering his success as a host on Saturday Night Live.
The awards show was best when it got emotional. The Bill Russell tribute was sweet, and Russell took it to another level when he told Shaquille O’Neal, Alonzo Mourning, Dikembe Mutombo, David Robinson and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar that he could kick their asses. And Monty Williams winning the Sager Strong award was legitimately moving. The entire segment left me in tears, particularly when Williams began speaking about his kids.
I was worried that the awards show stage wouldn’t lend itself to a proper speech for the MVP winner. That’s been a highlight of the award the past few seasons, with Kevin Durant, Stephen Curry and LeBron James each taking the opportunity to make heartfelt comments after winning the award. Fortunately, Russell Westbrook didn’t shy away from the moment, and the normally stoic (and media-shy) Westbrook showed a completely different side of himself to the public during a teary speech.
Of course, the show wasn’t perfect. It was definitely lacking in star power. No LeBron. No KD. Kawhi was an MVP finalist and he didn’t show up. It’s going to be very difficult for the NBA to have its stars commit to showing up to an awards show when most of them are on vacation all over the world, but the show won’t feel special if the biggest names aren’t in attendance.
And finally, the timing. Announcing the winner of a dramatic MVP race at an awards show with all the finalists in-house is a great idea. Doing so months after the fervor over the race has died down is a terrible one. So when should the NBA try to hold the show? Some time after the regular season but before the start of the playoffs makes the most sense. But that presents a new set of issues, with organizations being hyper-focused on the playoffs during what’s the most important time of the year.
Overall, the NBA’s first awards show gets a solid B. The execution and production were great, and it felt like a special event. It’s the conception that ultimately needs work. The NBA was lucky to have a such a captivating MVP race in 2017. Next time, the Association can do a much better job capitalizing on that excitement.