The NBA has created two new Conference Finals MVP awards to honor the best performances in each conference, as well as overhauling several of its signature postseason awards, the league announced today in a press release.
The Conference Finals awards will pay tribute to two Hall of Fame players with some of the starriest resumes in league history, who have each made plenty of appearances in the playoffs’ penultimate round.
The Western Conference Finals MVP will now be rewarded with the Earvin “Magic” Johnson Trophy. The hardware honors Lakers legend Magic Johnson, a 12-time All-Star and five-time champion with Los Angeles who advanced out of the West and into the Finals nine times during his 13-season career.
Johnson was named to both the NBA’s 50th Anniversary Team in 1997 and its 75th Anniversary Team this year. Johnson was also a key member of the 1992 Olympic gold medal-winning “Dream Team.” He went on to enjoy an incredibly lucrative career with a variety of businesses following his NBA tenure, as well as several successful stints as a league broadcaster. He had an ownership stake with the Lakers for the team’s five subsequent titles from 2000-2002 and 2009-2010. He briefly returned to the Lakers in separate stints as a coach and executive, and is currently advising Lakers owner Jeanie Buss in an informal capacity. Johnson also won another basketball title as the co-owner of the WNBA club the Los Angeles Sparks in 2016.
“The NBA Conference Finals represent the last hurdle a team must face for an opportunity to make it to the big stage, the NBA Finals,” Johnson, now 62, said of the honor. “I’m truly honored to have my name memorialized on the Western Conference Finals Most Valuable Player Trophy. This player excels on both ends of the court, makes his teammates better and leads his team to the greatest stage in basketball.”
The Larry Bird Trophy will be given to the Eastern Conference Finals MVP, in tribute to Johnson’s longtime Eastern Conference counterpart Larry Bird. Bird also made his NBA debut during the 1979/80 NBA season along with Johnson, following three years at Indiana State that culminated in an NCAA championship game loss to Johnson’s Spartans. Bird bested Johnson for the 1980 NBA Rookie of the Year award with the Celtics.
In a 13-year playing career for Boston, Bird – like Johnson – made nine All-NBA First Teams and one All-NBA Second Team. The 6’9″ forward was named to three All-Defensive Second Teams, won three championships with the Celtics, and was awarded the Finals MVP in two of those title trips. He advanced to the NBA Finals out of the East five times. Bird was a three-time league MVP and one-time All-Star Game MVP. Like Johnson, Bird was a 1992 Olympic gold medalist, though back issues limited his efficacy with the club. Bird was named to both the NBA’s 50th and 75th Anniversary Teams.
“I am very honored to have my name associated with the NBA’s Eastern Conference Finals MVP Trophy,” the 65-year-old Bird said. “I know how tough it is to get to this great milestone of the Eastern Conference Finals and to be named the Most Valuable Player makes it even more special.”
Bird’s history with the Eastern Conference Finals doesn’t end with his playing career. He later served as the head coach of the Pacers for three seasons from 1997-2000, advancing to the Eastern Conference Finals twice and the NBA Finals once, in 2000. Bird then moved on to become the Pacers’ team president, leading Indiana to three more Eastern Conference Finals appearances before ultimately moving to a consulting role with the club in 2017. He is currently the only person to have won the NBA MVP, Coach of the Year, and Executive of the Year honors.
The NBA will also pay tribute to two other Hall of Famers with some additional Conference Championship hardware.
The league has renamed the Western Conference Championship Trophy the Oscar Robertson Trophy, named after the Hall of Fame point guard Oscar Robertson, who served a starry 14-year career with the Bucks and Cincinnati Royals. Robertson was a 12-time All-Star, a nine-time First Teamer, and two-time Second Teamer, a three-time All-Star Game MVP, a one-time league MVP, and the 1961 Rookie of the Year.
“I am thrilled to have the NBA Western Conference Champions Trophy named in my honor,” said the 83-year-old Robertson. “Several decades ago, I played in an emerging and highly competitive league with tremendous talent. This trophy represents to me not only my hard work to make the league better, but all the efforts of the future Oscar Robertson Trophy winners who make the NBA great.”
In the Eastern Conference, the championship trophy will now be known as the Bob Cousy Trophy, a tribute to the longtime Celtics Hall of Fame point guard Bob Cousy. The 6’1″ Holy Cross alum, selected with the No. 3 pick by Boston in 1950, has been named to the 25th, 35th, 50th and 75th NBA Anniversary teams. He went on to make 13 All-Star teams and win six titles with Boston. Cousy was also a 10-time All NBA First Teamer and a two-time Second Teamer, in addition to winning one MVP in 1957.
“I have been part of the NBA family since 1950 and among the greatest joys of my post-playing career has been watching the game continue to evolve into what it is today,” the 93-year-old Cousy said. “There are few greater achievements in sports than representing your conference in the NBA Finals, and I’m moved that the NBA has granted me the honor of being connected to the Eastern Conference champions for years to come.”
The NBA has also re-designed its Larry O’Brien Trophy, awarded to the winner of the NBA Finals, and its Bill Russell Trophy, given to the NBA Finals MVP.