Teammate of the Year Award: Why the NBA Almost Got it Right!

Last year, among a litany of bigger, more coveted awards a NBA player was recognized for being a good teammate – errr, the best teammate. In the era of self-centered, ball-hogging, hero-ball that has clogged up the ranks of basketball from the youngest leagues through the professional ranks, the NBA did something that shocked me – they honored a teammate.

There may be more than a little bias on my part, but I have been absolutely thrilled with the selections for 2013 and 2014. The inaugural selection of the award was presented to a player whose identity changed from a slightly cocky point guard, who shot too much, and couldn’t run an offense through anyone but himself when he first entered the league to a player who served as the vocal floor-general on one of the best teams of the 2000s. Chauncey Billups had moved beyond elite player, to amazing teammate, teacher, and ambassador for the game. His was a fitting recognition.Image

This year, the award went to Shane Battier (who had been runner-up the previous year), who certainly exemplifies selflessness and team-orientation. Battier, a native of Birmingham, MI (suburb of Detroit) went from being the most highly recruited high school basketball player in the nation (when he played at Detroit Country Day – Chris Webber’s alma mater) being named the Naismith High School player of the year, to becoming another great at Duke where he led the team to the NCAA title and he was named the Naismith NCAA Player of the year (and was also a three-time Defensive Player of the Year in college).

Battier was selected 6th overall by the Grizzlies and throughout his early career was overlooked as an NBA player. Until, teams started to get it. No, Battier is not the quintessential NBA athlete. While 6’8” and having some quickness and jumping ability, Battier is not an athletic freak like you might think of when talking about Michael Jordan, Lebron James, or even Kobe Bryant. But Battier is a dogged competitor, a player who understands the team concept, and frankly has made every team he has played on better (as recognized by the championships won at each level – High School, College, and in the NBA). Battier is a great example and a perfect fit to follow Billups as the Teammate of the Year.

But, what pains me about this award is that outside of the reason for the name of the award (it is the Twyman-Stokes award), the amount that goes to charity ($25,000 to the charity of the player’s desire) and the actual voting mechanics and finish, nothing in the articles seem to point out anything about the greatness of these two players as teammates! What? Can you imagine a story on the MVP trophy or Defensive Player of the Year simply focusing on the mechanics of the voting process?

What about a piece like this (written by Michael Lewis of Moneyball fame) where the teammate is shown for the blessings and struggles he has faced? What about getting real quotes from teammates about the ways he has mentored, assisted, and shown true leadership on the team and in the community? Might it be possible to talk more in-depth about the foundation that the player is supporting, detailing how it fits into their role as a great teammate? Nope. Sorry!

It pains me to thank the NBA, none of the other Big 4 North American pro sports has this award, but could we do a little better in spotlighting what teamwork it is actually about?

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