The t-shirts worn by Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen said it best back in 1996: their record-breaking regular season “don’t mean a thing without the ring.” Ever since, the NBA has been defined by “rings culture,” the idea that team and individual accomplishments are mostly meaningless if there’s no championship to back them up. It’s why “the Warriors blew a 3-1 lead” will be remembered as the most important part of Golden State’s 73-9 campaign back in 2015-2016. Season-long stats come and go, but banners hang forever.
There’s only problem with rings culture: it leaves 29 teams and 29 fanbases feeling unsatisfied. The NBA has been quietly fighting to make everything that happens before the NBA Finals feel more important, whether it’s toying with a midseason tournament or creating conference finals MVP awards that debuted last season. Now the NBA has another new trophy it’s planning to roll out: The Maurice Podoloff Trophy given to the team with the best regular season record. The league announced the new trophy, along with a few others honoring sportsmanship, teammates, and more, in a press release on Tuesday.
“The trophy features a crystal ball cut into 82 panels, sitting on a pedestal that combines the structures of the Eastern Conference posts and Western conference rings,” the NBA wrote in a press release. It’s a cool trophy, but it feels like it’s only going to lead to more jokes for the teams that win this “award” but fail to win the championship.
It was embarrassing enough to watch the Phoenix Suns waste a league-best 64-win regular season before getting upset in the second round of the playoffs last season to the Dallas Mavericks. Now imagine if the playoffs opened with Chris Paul holding up a trophy for a regular season award. The meme potential is simply off the charts.
Jokes aside, the idea of rewarding and commemorating more than just the championship is a wonderful idea in theory — it just feels so hard to pull off in practice. International soccer is of course full of trophies clubs can win even if they’re not the final team standing in their league, and it helps teams and fans feel accomplished even without a ring. It’s a nice way to disincentivize tanking, which the NBA rightly loathes.
If “the The Maurice Podoloff Trophy” sounds familiar, that’s because it’s also the name of the league’s MVP trophy. It sure seems like the MVP trophy is going to get a rebranding in the near future, too.
Kudos to the NBA for exploring new ideas and trying to push the league beyond rings culture. Maybe it will pay off in the long-term. In the short term, it will probably mostly be good for newer and more creative memes. That’s not so bad, either.