Sunday, April 24, 2016

My Favorite Award: Defensive Player of the Year

I love awards and award ceremonies. I'm a total sucker for the anticipation and the hype. Months prior I guess who will be named Sportsperson of the Year by Sports Illustrated. I anticipate distinctions in sports with abundant enthusiasm. I know some sports fans who could care less, but that's not me. If you earn it, I will forever remember you as Rookie of the Year, a Cy Young award winner, Golden Glove recipient, MVP, and more. That being said, my favorite award is one that generates little to no hype. It's the NBA's Defensive Player of the Year award. In a sport that is all about points, dunks and anything but playing defense, this award is worth enjoying...promoting and thinking more about.

I have to admit, I'm not sure I ever paid attention to it until I saw one of my favorite 30 for 30s: Bad Boys. A young and clean cut Dennis Rodman earned this honor on May 8, 1990. He accepted it with tears and with humility. I still think that moment shines a light onto who the true Rodman really is.

“I was so happy to win that award. I was like “Oh my God!” I knew what it meant to work hard and get the satisfactino that people actually appreciated it.He added "they could have given me a lollipop for the award and I wouldn't have cared. I just...Oh my God! I won something in the NBA! It was so overwhelming, I just! I owed it all to my teammates, actually. Coach Daly...the entire organization."
And he is a significant reason why the 1990 Detroit Pistons earned the second NBA Championship. As we see in football, baseball and less obviously in basketball: defense wins championships!
It's worth noting that this year's recipient, San Antonio Spurs' forward Kawhi Leonard is the first non-center to the win award in back to back seasons since Dennis Rodman. Leonard led a Spurs' defense that allowed the fewest points per game (92.9) in the league this season, three points better than the Utah Jazz. He finished the regular season with 1.78 steals, 5.5 defensive rebounds and 1.0 blocks per game. He also averaged career-highs in points (21.1) and assists (2.6). —Sports Illustrated 

Leonard's reaction however couldn't have been more different. While Rodman wept like a baby, According to GQ's Jack Moore, Leonard "let 18% of a smile creep through." But they share something in common, an incredible work ethic. And that is what I believe this award honors;  the athlete who is earning this distinction isn't mailing it in on any part of the game. Quite the contrary. For example, this year's second place vote getter—Draymond Green—is the first player in NBA history with over 1,000 points, 500 rebounds, 500 assists, 100 blocks and 100 steels in a single season.

Though awards are often political, biased, and limited, they can serve as an effective framework by which to measure other athletes. For example, during Game 1 of the Western Conference finals Warriors center Andrew Bogut played excellent (and charged) "D." Up against Dwight Howard, it was easy to think "maybe he should have earned Defensive Player of the Year!" It was as though the announcers heard my question as they quipped "Does Bogut look like Russell Crowe in Gladiator or what?!"

Or a friend recently sent a clip from Airplane (see below). .....I think your the greatest but my dad says you don't hustle on defense and he says lots of times you don't even run down court....It's hard not to love Kareem, but even one of the greatest of all time (on many players' Mt. Rushmore) was limited in his abilities—defense being maybe the only thing.

Looking at athletes who win this award, among others, I am reminded of Paul's first Letter to the Corinthians in which he writes:

There are different kinds of spiritual gifts but the same Spirit
There are different forms of service but the same Lord;
There are different workings but the same God who produces all of them in everyone.

To each individual the manifestation of the Spirit is given for some benefit.

There's not a coach or teammate that doesn't understand the benefit of a strong defensive player. It's an invaluable form of service. One I love to celebrate!

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