While your NBA Calendar is just now heating up for this year, the actual calendar the rest of the world uses is coming to a close next week. As we wrap up 2022, it’s time we take a look back at some of the league-defining moments and characters for us as a time capsule by giving out some awards like many other mediums of art, entertainment, and people as a whole. The stories of the NBA that the crazed spectators or the teams endure are practically an entirely different world from those that aren’t plagued with the sick joy of fandom, but the drama, the Netflix series-level characters, and the moments make it feel like a family. As the other worlds have musical awards, theatrical awards, film awards, and everything in between in their calendar year, let’s get into some of the awards that defined this NBA year to put it in review as we start up the next revolution around the Sun and change our calendars to 2023.
Best Director: Empowered Superstars
The Academy Awards Best Director Award recognizes the creative mind behind the scenes that works in the shadows, making it all happen with their own clear vision in mind. That sounds quite a bit like the manner in which superstars orchestrate their way into more ideal situations, be it financially, in a better location, or in a situation better suited to win-now. It’s just the way the league works now. Yes, you can sign a 5-year max deal with a no-trade clause, but the moment the organization starts losing and that superstar gets disgruntled or unhappy, the value of an individual player as a commodity is so valuable in a way that the team needs the player more than the player needs the team that they can just send out a Tweet, refuse to play, and let the front offices take the reins from there. They’re better suited to capitalize on the return than just having an unhappy star who sits out, doesn’t fit their success timeline, or has a lack of effort that creates dysfunction.
Just take a look at the Kevin Durant saga this summer where he formally didn’t want to be there and simply said he’d like to be traded or have the head coach and GM fired. That was just simply accepted! He was calling for other mens’ jobs and could do so because Steve Nash and Sean Marks can’t drop 40 points and 15 rebounds to take them to a title. Durant didn’t get traded to any of the teams he listed, but still got Nash fired and the Nets have been rolling.
The players hold the keys and are directing the success or failures of the teams.
Best Revival: Rivalries
The Tony Awards in the world of theatrical arts will award the best revivals of classic tales as old as time that are brought back and given a new life. In the NBA, there’s a presumption that because of the AAU culture where everyone is friends with everyone now that they’ve played together growing up in travel tournaments that the tension that we had in the bully-ball era of the 1990’s or the iconic matchups of the 80’s are gone.
The tension feels alive and well, and rivalries are not only back, they appear to be created organically. It adds another element of entertainment and drama in the league.
It’s a little challenging to get some of the classics like Celtics-Lakers back up and running with the franchises in different conferences (and different trajectories, for that matter), and some of the
storylines are a bit of force-fed journalism hunting for headlines, but many of the beefs have come from genuine animosity. The league is even embracing it, as this year they’re introducing “rivals week” in January. The Suns and Mavericks will play after the unforgettable moment of Luka spitefully grinning at Devin Booker as the Suns were embarrassed off the court in a playoff upset. The Grizzlies and Warriors will play after their playoff series consisted of Dillon Brooks “breaking the code” with his physical play, Draymond Green, Stephen Curry, and now Klay Thompson just this week on their Christmas Day matchup taunting them, and then Jackson Jr. making fun of the Warriors “strength in numbers” mantra. We even get Nets-Sixers in the aftermath of Ben Simmons refusing to play again in Philadelphia and James Harden working his way out of Brooklyn.
The scheduling this season has even been situated with back-to-back matchups to limit travel, so when the Pelicans and Suns were getting chippy after Zion showboated with a windmill dunk to seal the first game after the Suns eliminated them in round one last year, that chippiness carried over into the next game the very next game.
We don’t need to situate rivalries with historic franchises or headline-hunting- they’re just happening naturally, and it’s got all eyes on the regular season in games that may not have mattered otherwise.
Word of the Year: “Him”
Every year, Oxford chooses a slang word and declares it the “word of the year” and thus adds it to the dictionary. This year was “goblin mode.” In the NBA (and sports in general, as it’s been overdone), the word of the year was easily “Him.”
The word became viral after a clip surfaced of Michael Beasley at some sort of YMCA-esque gym. Yes, the same Michael Beasley who was the #2 overall pick in 2008, flamed out in the NBA by averaging just 12 points per game on 9 different teams, balled out in China for the Shanghai Sharks, and is known for taking some not-so-legal substances and saying some not-so-normal things in interviews. While playing against players in this gym that could potentially be working at your local fast food eatery, he was dominating and yelling “I’M HIM” at these scrubs as if they all looked at this draft bust in a god-like fashion; it was the most Michael Beasley clip possible.
Soon after, the word became sensational. Superstar Ja Morant has “him” tattooed on his hand. Now, any time an athlete of any caliber makes a cool play, Sportscenter will caption it on social media with “___________ is HIM!” Every NBA player, in a league where the spotlight burns the brightest on individual talent and the sport is about being better than the other man with your individual style, wants to claim to be him. The spirit of the word needs to be more attributed to the Michael Beasley moments of the world. Pat Bev standing on the table to win the play-in tournament, the playoff game to get into the playoff game, is a “Him” moment. Jimmy Butler not caring about the regular season at all but cockily cooking defenders in postseason games when everyone is actually looking is a “Him” moment. It’s not just whoever is good at what they’re asked to do.
Best Foreign Film: The Future of the League
The NBA has done an incredible job in terms of outreach to globalize the sport over the last several decades. Anyone with a ball and an iteration of a hoop can play basketball, and the accessibility that the organization has done to capitalize on that and market the stars and the games around the world has been impeccable and should be applauded. The growing diversity is beautiful.
Take a look at the superstars that are currently defining the game:
- Nikola Jokic- Back-to-back reigning MVP, only 27 and from Serbia
- Giannis Antetekounmpo- 2019 and 2020 MVP, 28, Greece
- Joel Embiid- 28, Cameroonian with French citizenship
- Luka Doncic- 23, Slovenian
- Domantas Sabonis- 26, Lithuanian
- Franz Wagner- 21, German
The list could go on and on, and that’s not even including the French atomic bomb that teams are already tanking for as ESPN broadcasts random French games for you to see him- Victor Wembanyama. Wembanyama is 18, 7’2 with an all-around skillset of someone who is most certainly not his length, and already has on his Wikipedia “is expected to be the first overall pick.”
The game is international. There should never be a presumption that because it’s played in America that ONLY we have the best players; in fact, the story has been that the rest of the world is catching up.
It’s fantastic to see more places around the world not only play the game, but get sucked into the chaotic world that is the Association, with stories that only get crazier each year.