It’s the question that has been burning in my mind — who is actually qualified to vote for NBA awards?
The NBA honors have been determined by a group of sportswriters and broadcasters dating back to 1980. While the system hasn’t been short of contentious discourse over the years, the talk around who votes on these awards has ramped up recently, especially in the wake of the Jokic vs Embiid vs Antetokounmpo MVP discussions.
My intrigue into this matter was heightened after listening to Zach Lowe and former Houston Rockets Head Coach, Jeff Van Gundy, discuss this very subject on a recent episode of Lowe’s podcast, The Lowe Post. It was a bit disheartening, yet understandable as to why they feel awkward as media members deciding on player accolades.
JVG talked about how he gave up his vote years ago, and Lowe conceded that he too has considered foregoing the process due to how impactful their decisions are.
How impactful are their votes? For players such as Jaylen Brown and Pascal Siakim, the ballots that the media casts for All-NBA teams can make a difference of approximately $100 million come time for their next contract extension.
Who would want that pressure? Better yet, why would players feel comfortable with the media deciding their worth? That being said, are there any better options?
It’s not an easy solution, I get it. The voting is spread out to a panel of 100 global experts. Experts in the sense that they should be some of the most knowledgable and reasonable NBA savants.
But that’s not always the case. We know that’s not the case because it’s ultimately a subjective vote at the end of the day. And with subjectivity comes bias. So in turn, the voting narratives can turn into propaganda machines.
Nowadays, we see instances where the players and media members exist as mutually beneficial partners. Homeboys, essentially. You scratch my back, I scratch yours.
While I can find this tiresome, I understand that the presence of self-promotion is necessary considering that the competition is doing the same. Driving narrative has become an obligatory part of being a professional athlete these days, and I guess I’d have to consider it a net-positive if I’m on the side of player empowerment.
This is especially true when you consider that the inverse of the buddy-buddy player/media relationship is when a voter holds a vendetta against a player, and for whatever reason uses their platform to desecrate that player’s standing, no matter how well they’re playing.
As Rockets fans, I’m sure you’re well-aware of how this goes.
So how is this 100-voter system fixed? Let’s dive into who can vote.
Fans are out of the question. You see how they butcher the All-Star voting time and time again, so don't even bother giving them input on something of a higher magnitude. There actually was a 101st vote that existed on the fans’ behalf, but the NBA removed it due to ineptitude.
The next option would be coaches, but in listening to Lowe and JVG, they expressed their doubt in even the coaches being reliable enough to not display favoritism. There’s not enough hours for them to coach their own team and then keep track of other teams and players on a nightly basis. Of course they are going to view the league with a sense of tunnel vision and lean towards their guys.
How about players? You can’t count on them either, current or retired. The Athletic recently polled 101 former players, and in a world where Giannis, Jokić, Embiid, Luka etc. exist, two retired vets chose Kyrie Irving as the best active player. So, yeah...
While I value the players’ expertise given that they are the ones actually out there playing each other, they have demonstrated that they lean towards bias too.
So all that leaves us is where we started off in the first place, the media. I actually don’t mind the media taking the lead on the voting to be frank. There is a large number of guys and gals that I trust in the industry that take this task seriously.
Let’s put it this way, if everyone that voted evaluated the game the same way that a Zach Lowe or a Nekias Duncan of Basketball News does, then I’d feel more at ease about however the results shake out to be. Would they always get it right? I don’t know! Being “right” is subjective, but at least I’d know that the people voting for these awards are at least putting effort into watching the games, breaking them down, and using that to draw informed conclusions.
That’s a helluva lot better than the folks who get on the largest sports networks and spew out banter for strictly ratings and back scratches. The echo chamber that emerges from the analysts who don’t actually analyze the game is what skews conversation and creates the ramifications that the players must deal with.
Alas, I’ve ultimately come to the conclusion that the voting responsibilities should be left in the hands of the journalists and broadcasters. It’s a less than ideal solution, but they have proven more reliable than the players, coaches, and fans.
At the very least, there are some (not all) former players and coaches that have transitioned into media and actually do their homework. That ensures that those who have been directly in contact with the game still have a say.
I also came away with another takeaway in all of this. In reviewing the past three years of balloting, I noticed that one network, ESPN, has had an overwhelming majority of the votes. The Athletic and Turner held the second highest amount of ballots, but those only equated to roughly half of the influence that ESPN held.
For 2021-22, ESPN had 18 voters cast MVP votes. On the bright side, it appears that the NBA may have already started taken corrective measurements as it was 21 votes in 2020-21 and 24 votes in 2019-20.
I don’t think it’s wise to have just one platform control approximately 20% of the ballot, but I’m encouraged that the vote is being spread out more generously as other sports media companies grow and gain credibility.
I think the middle ground won’t truly be found until the NBA establishes what criteria we are looking for in an MVP, DPOY, All-NBA performer etc. It’s not necessarily a bad thing that everyone is grading off a different scale. It just complicates the consensus.