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Sixth Man Award now named for Celtics legend John Havlicek

Some hits and some misses as a half-dozen awards are now named for former league stars, but overall a solid effort to honor NBA history.

Boston Celtics - John Havlicek Photo by Dick Raphael/NBAE via Getty Images

In an effort to honor NBA history and, presumably, to drive social media engagement, the league announced Tuesday that several awards trophies have been redesigned and renamed for some of its all-time greats.

From the Celtics’ point of view, the Sixth Man Award places John Havlicek in a select group with Bill Russell (Finals MVP bears his name), Bob Cousy (Eastern Conference champions), Larry Bird (EC Finals MVP) and Red Auerbach (Coach of the Year).

“Our new collection of trophies celebrates some of the greatest and most impactful players in the history of the NBA,” said NBA Commissioner Adam Silver in the press release. “As we recognize the league’s top performers each season, we also pay tribute to the legends who embody these prestigious awards.”

It’s cool that the league is making an effort to remember the past. Certainly, the NFL and Major League Baseball have a tradition of honoring their legends, and their fans seem to eat it up. Not so with the NBA, however.

If you’re on Twitter, you’ve probably seen the endless debates over who is the greatest player or team of all time. Kobe, LeBron and MJ fans are especially vocal about it. But it’s not only that. Today’s fans in general have a toxic habit of boosting their favorites by tearing down previous generations of players.

Some typical themes: the Celtics titles in the eight-team league of the ‘50s/’60s were too easy to win; anyone who played in the 20th Century was a plumber or accountant, not a baller; black-and-white highlight films can’t be taken seriously.

So … check the responses to the above tweets and unsurprisingly you’ll find many fans who aren’t buying the new names. But really, was the NBA going to name the Sixth Man trophy for good-but-not-all-time-great players like Jamal Crawford or Lou Williams? No, they were not.

For balance, we – who actually saw all these pioneers except Mikan play – offer some reactions to the new designations.

MVP, Michael Jordan: Not bad. Mike was a five-time winner, as was Russell, but Bill’s name is already on that Finals MVP hardware. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar won six MVPs, but he’s got the Social Media Champion award named after him. It should not have been named for Kobe because he won MVP only once, and the All-Star Game MVP is named after him anyway. And it certainly shouldn’t be named after an active player (cough, LeBron and Curry fans, cough).

DPOY, Hakeem Olajuwon: Again, it could’ve been Russell, but in any case, is Hakeem deserving? He was twice Defensive Player of the Year and nine times on the All-Defense team, but numerous defenders have won more DPOYs. And Tim Duncan, for example, was All-Defense 15 times. The league must’ve really wanted Hakeem’s name in here.

ROY, Wilt Chamberlain: Wilt averaged 38 and 27 as a rookie, and won MVP to boot. Hard to argue here, and such a towering figure – literally and figuratively – deserves this type of recognition.

Sixth Man of Year, John Havlicek: Sure, Hondo made his name early on as the first reserve off the bench, but the original Sixth Man was Boston’s Frank Ramsay (no. 23 in the rafters). However, John has the name recognition. The only proper argument against him might be that he averaged 37 minutes per game for his career and surely started more games than not over 16 seasons. Here’s his career resume and a family statement in his memory.

Most Improved, George Mikan: (Shrug, palms up.) The league’s first superstar had to get in there somewhere.

New Clutch Player of Year, Jerry West: He’s certainly one of the most respected figures in NBA history – a prolific scorer and the inspiration for the NBA logo, who made one of the most clutch, iconic shots ever seen.

But West got the Mr. Clutch nickname from broadcaster Chick Hearn as a marketing tactic to help sell tickets. The fact is West won just one of the nine Finals he played in. He can’t truly be blamed for the eight losses, but that’s more runner-up finishes than anyone who’s ever played. A better choice might have been Sam Jones, who is largely forgotten despite winning 10 rings and hitting many clutch shots of his own.

For better or worse, the names have been selected. The hope here is that maybe, just maybe, some newer NBA fans will make an effort to embrace the league’s rich history rather than reject it.

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