The NBA’s Awards Show Was Painful to Watch

The NBA's awards show is the league at its worst. The timing makes no sense. It’s overcomplicated. Was anyone clamoring for this?
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I love the NBA, and all the silly ancillary events that come with it. I actually watch the celebrity All-Star game. I love staying up late on a random February night, pouring myself a big bowl of cereal, and eventually falling asleep to the sounds of the Inside crew making fun of Shaq. So it brings me no pleasure to say the NBA’s Awards show, which mercifully wrapped its third iteration Monday night, is a complete waste of time and needs to be abandoned immediately.

Monday’s show wasn’t only boring, it was often excruciating to watch. The award presenters were either shamefully promoting their next project (Tiffany Haddish) or completely random (Justin Hartley.) Shaquille O’Neal was a nonfactor as a host, delivering an awkward monologue and woefully unrehearsed bits that showed why Shaq has largely abandoned his acting career in retirement. The emotional moments (like the Sager Strong award for Robin Roberts) didn’t fully resonate because of the checked-out nature of the show. And the players themselves hardly seemed to care, with James Harden skipping the event to dress up in China despite being a finalist for MVP. 

The Awards show is the NBA at its worst. First and foremost, it’s overcomplicated. Was anyone clamoring for this? I’ve yet to encounter a single person (and by encounter, I mean read a tweet) who prefers finding out about the awards after the playoffs have ended. This show could potentially have merit if it came before the postseason, but in that scenario, I wouldn’t blame players for not wanting to show up to such a light-hearted production right before the most intense part of the NBA calendar. The Awards show basically tried to fix what wasn’t broken, and most frustratingly, fans suffer as a result. 

The two hour-plus event is basically an excuse for the NBA’s corporate partners to shove themselves down our throats. Like, every award is sponsored. At one point, Shaq plugged his own pizza chain before tossing to a commercial. The result is something that’s boring, unfunny, and soulless. 

There were a few redeeming moments Monday night, even if they didn’t save the show altogether. Roberts receiving the Sager honor was uplifting. Larry Bird made a rare public appearance, and was one of the more humorous people to take the stage, and he gave a great anti-old man take about the state of the NBA. My cousin Hasan Minhaj poked fun at James Harden, and explicitly stated the pointlessness of holding the event so far from the regular season. 

But it should say something to the NBA that so many of its most important names are missing from this night. The Awards show isn’t really a way to bring the league’s greats into the same room. Where were LeBron James, Kevin Durant, or the man who just won Finals MVP, Kawhi Leonard? What about Steph Curry? Or Joel Embiid? I would have even settled for (or rather, celebrated the appearance of) Nikola Jokic. If NBA players don’t really care about this, why should we? And isn’t it kind of weird to have players in attendance for this anyway? When Giannis Antetokounmpo is receiving his MVP award, do we really need to see the camera cut to Trae Young’s reaction? Who cares? 

So much of NBA lore depends on the old Awards format. Players receiving their MVPs in front of their teammates, and preparing speeches like Durant’s “You the real MVP” in 2014. Imagine if the We Believe Warriors hadn’t beaten the Mavs in the wake of Dirk’s MVP win. Or what the Hakeem Olajuwon-David Robinson 1995 playoff battle would have been like if Olajuwon wasn’t motivated by losing out to Robinson. If the NBA is intent on robbing us of these moments, it should at least put on a good show, but the league hasn’t consistently done that.

I have hope, because the NBA is generally pretty good at responding to public pressure. Again, I don’t know any fan of the league who likes this setup. As long as people continue to complain about the mind-numbing nature of these shows, and clamor for the Awards reveals to happen in a more timely fashion (like when people are still watching basketball on TV), I think the NBA will come to its senses and give people what they want. Until then, genuinely important moments—like an immigrant from Greece overcoming incredible odds to win the game’s highest individual honor—will continue to be buried under the widespread malaise of his peers, countless sponsorships, and bad jokes.