Since reports began circulating on Friday that the NBA would be unveiling a new annual award before Game 2 of the NBA Finals between the Miami Heat and San Antonio Spurs, fans and reporters have wondered which new honor the league had chosen to add its suite of year-end accolades. Guesses ranged from the plausible (Offensive Player of the Year?) to the preposterous (check the #NewNBAAward joke hashtag).
The speculation ended at noon on the East Coast on Sunday, though, when NBA.com's Steve Aschburner reported that NBA Commissioner David Stern will present the inaugural Twyman-Stokes Teammate of the Year Award in a pregame ceremony at AmericanAirlines Arena on Sunday. The nominees for the new award, which recognizes the league's "ideal teammate," were "selected by a panel of NBA Legends according to 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," according to Aschburner.
The panel's 12 finalists — six from each conference — were then presented to NBA players for voting, which probably made Manu Ginobili pretty pleased. Each voter could cast a ballot for five players — though they were not able to vote for one of their own teammates, which seems kind of odd considering it's an award honoring players who are good teammates, but we digress — with first-place votes worth 10 points, second-place votes worth seven points, third-place votes worth five points, fourth-place votes worth three points and fifth-place votes worth one point.
The finalists for the first Twyman-Stokes trophy are:
• Jerry Stackhouse of the Brooklyn Nets
• Luke Walton of the Cleveland Cavaliers
• Andre Iguodala of the Denver Nuggets
• Jarrett Jack of the Golden State Warriors
• Roy Hibbert of the Indiana Pacers
• Chauncey Billups of the Los Angeles Clippers
• Shane Battier of the Miami Heat
• Roger Mason Jr. of the New Orleans Hornets
• Jason Kidd of the New York Knicks
• Serge Ibaka of the Oklahoma City Thunder
• Manu Ginobili of the San Antonio Spurs
• Emeka Okafor of the Washington Wizards
It seems unlikely that Ibaka will win the award, considering the Thunder big man is in Italy at the adidas Eurocamp and the award will reportedly be presented live at the arena in Miami. Given the fact that the Heat and Spurs are playing on-site on Sunday, Battier and Ginobili would seem to be sound bets, with Battier making a bit more sense considering he'll be playing in front of his home crowd.
The award bears the names of NBA legends Jack Twyman and Maurice Stokes, who played together on the Rochester and Cincinnati Royals in the 1950s and whose bond as teammates extended far beyond the hardwood, as BDL Editor Kelly Dwyer wrote after Twyman died last May at age 78:
[...] Twyman acted as former teammate Maurice Stokes' caretaker for the last 12 years of Stokes' life, after the former Royals forward suffered significant brain damage during an injury sustained in the final game of the 1957-58 season, cutting short a promising career (to say the absolute least) that saw Stokes average a combined 33.7 points/rebounds a contest for the Royals.
Worse, with Stokes' family hundreds of miles away and workers compensation failing to cover the costs of his care in the years before the NBA developed a strong union and significant pension plan, Stokes was just about left to his own devices as he grew more and more destitute. This is where Twyman came in, organizing fundraisers for his former teammate, visiting him weekly, and essentially acting as his caretaker (while working as an NBA All-Star, while running his own insurance company in the NBA's offseason, and while working as ABC's lead color analyst) until Stokes' passing in 1970.
Twyman was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 1983. Twenty-one years later, Stokes received the same honor — after years of lobbying from his dedicated teammate and friend.