On August 18th, 1890, a little boy was born to a Jewish family in Yelisavetgrad, Russia; a city that is now considered part of the Ukraine. As a young boy, he emigrated to the United States with his family, attending high school in New Haven, CT and later graduating from Yale University with a degree in law in 1915. According to a variety of sources on the internet, he was a special boy who turned into an even greater man. Those who knew him consistently cited the high level of character he possessed; along with an amalgam of other fine characteristics, i.e organizational skills, intellect, work ethic, that he also demonstrated. Needless to say, this man was looked at in high regard.
His name was Maurice Podoloff; and even if you are a die-hard NBA fan, chances are good you're not too familiar with his name or story. Turns out, Maurice was a pretty damn interesting guy. And while I am ashamed to admit it, I wasn't very familiar with our boy Maurice either until I went to write a piece on this year's NBA MVP candidates.
So what does Maurice Podoloff have to do with this NBA season's Most Valuable Player?
For those who don't know the answer (like I didn't before writing this article), Maurice Podoloff was the first ever commissioner (then called the President) of the NBA. At the time he was appointed President, he was also serving as President of the American Hockey League. He was the first person ever to lead two professional leagues simultaneously. Walter Sobchek (aka John Goodman's character in The Big Lebowski aka one of my favorite movies of all time) would have classified Mr. Podoloff as being "not exactly a lightweight." (Shoutout to my boy Stu.) During Maurice Podoloff's illustrious tenure as the leagues leader, the league:
-Expanded to as many as 17 teams
-Introduced the collegiate draft
-Instituted the 24-second shot clock that drastically changed the game, turning it into a fast-paced sport and thus transforming it forever
-Secured the NBA's first television contract
(Keep in mind, these are just some of the great contributions made under Mr. Podoloff's leadership).
Every year, well since the 1955-56 season, the recipient of the NBA's MVP award receives, wait for it....wait for it.... the Maurice Podoloff Trophy.
And that's the connection.
So who, in my opinion, is in the running this year to receive the trophy named after one of the highest regarded people in basketball history? FYI, the contestants probably won't surprise you. Here's my top 4:
1.) Kobe Bryant - It's mind-boggling (or mind-bottling for you Will Ferrell fans out there) that Kobe Bryant is in his 16th year in the league. And like him or hate him, It's BEYOND mind-boggling/bottling that even in his older age (33) he is still dominating the game. This season, Kobe is averaging 28.7 points and the Lakers are neck and neck with the Clippers for 1st place in their division at 23-16.
2.) Kevin Durant - The guy just might be the most difficult matchup for any defender the NBA has ever seen (outside of the days when Wilt Chamberlain was Goliath playing against a bunch of Davids, of course). He's 6-9 and makes it rain from behind the arc. He's averaging 28.1 points this season and the Thunder are 31-8 and currently in 1st place overall in the Western Conference.
3.) Lebron James - Arguably the most athletic and explosive player the league has ever seen, Lebron James is on a mission this year. There has been so much criticism thrown his way in light of his "Decision" and I don't think the reality of the Heat losing to Dallas in the finals last year, has been sitting well for the self-proclaimed King James. This year Lebron is averaging 27.7 points per game and the Heat are 30-9 overall and it seems like Chicago is their only real competition in the East.
4.) Derrick Rose - As the current reigning MVP from last year, Derrick Rose is once again making a convincing argument for receiving Mr. Podoloff's award for the 2nd year in a row. On any given night the Bulls are playing, ESPN could probably easily assemble 50% of the top-ten plays from Rose highlights alone. The Bulls are the only team in the East that have been measuring up to the Heat and that has a lot to do with Rose's 22.5 points per game. (And maybe his solid shooting percentage, low turnover ratio, and general ability to take games over also has something to do with it).
Surely you can make a case for Kevin Love who's having a ridiculous year at the power forward position, averaging 25 points per game and draining three-pointers like he's John Paxton in the 90's, however; the Timberwolves just aren't helping his case. If they can make a few moves before this trade deadline and step it up before the end of the season, maybe Love could hoist Maurice Podoloff's trophy after all? Only time will tell...
Thoughts? Get at me HoopsVibers and leave any comments of question below!
[image credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/keithallison/]