MIAMI – Awards in whatever walk of life typically honor the latest recipients, and if they happen to be named after someone, there occasionally can be some head-scratching and quizzical looks as to who that was and what exactly they did to get a trophy named after them.
A bunch of hockey players, for instance, are grinding out a championship series over the next two weeks for a silver cup named for … Lord Stanley? And the NBA surely gets it that while everyone knows what an MVP is, not everyone knows that Maurice Podoloff – for whom the trophy is named – was the league’s first commissioner.
The Twyman/Stokes Teammate of the Year Award is going to be different, if the league and the players who win it have anything to say about it.
The new postseason award – won for 2012-13 by Los Angeles Clippers guard Chauncey Billups – was created precisely to keep the names Jack Twyman and Maurice Stokes alive as symbols of sportsmanship, selflessness and other traits associated with not-just-good-but-great teammates.
Their story – Twyman becoming legal guardian and advocate for Stokes after his Cincinnati Royals teammate suffered a paralyzing brain injury in 1958, helping with his medical costs, sticking by his friend – is one that resonated throughout the league long after Stokes’ death in 1970 at age 36, and even more so after Twyman’s passing in 2012.
“The relationship shared by Jack and Maurice is as profound an illustration of compassionate and unconditional fellowship between two teammates that the NBA has ever seen,” NBA commissioner David Stern said at the presentation ceremony an hour before Game 2 of The Finals Sunday.
“We will get the opportunity to retell the story of Maurice Stokes and Jack Twyman on each occasion of the award’s being given.”
Billups, a 16-year veteran, directed some of his remarks upon accepting the award to son Jay Twyman and other members of Twyman’s family who attended the event at AmericanAirlines Arena. “I think even older players like myself to the younger guys need to know the story,” he said. “The story is the most unbelievable story I’ve ever heard in sports. And I’m just glad that my name could be mentioned alongside Mr. Twyman.”
At 36, having played for seven different NBA franchises, one could say that Billups was on the campaign trail without ever knowing about it. He was chosen in a vote of all NBA players from a ballot of 12 nominees, six from each conference selected by a panel of NBA Legends. The criteria: selfless play, on- and off-court leadership as a mentor and role model to other NBA players, and his commitment and dedication to his team. Or in his case, teams.
Other finalists included Jerry Stackhouse (Brooklyn Nets), Luke Walton (Cleveland Cavaliers), Andre Iguodala (Denver Nuggets), Jarrett Jack (Golden State Warriors), Roy Hibbert (Indiana Pacers), Shane Battier (Miami Heat), Roger Mason, Jr. (New Orleans Hornets), Jason Kidd (New York Knicks), Serge Ibaka (Oklahoma City Thunder), Manu Ginobili (San Antonio Spurs), and Emeka Okafor (Washington Wizards).
A point system was used — 10 points for a first-place vote, seven for second, five for third, three for fourth and one for fifth. Players were not allowed to vote for a player on their own team.
That last part might seem odd for a “teammate” award, but Billups – whose leadership was key to the Detroit Pistons’ 2004 NBA championship – is known throughout the players’ community as a solid citizen, generous with his time and more.
Noting that he never has had to sacrifice for a teammate the way Twyman did in caring for Stokes, Billups said: “I had to help a few teammates through some really, really tough family situations in a few different ways. … I never thought twice about it because I knew they needed it, and they respected me enough and looked up to me enough to ask me.”