I'm convinced that the NBA should create named awards to honor the legends of the game AND provide tangible rewards for specific accomplishments. This is the first in a series of suggestions in that vein.
I think Bill Russell should be honored by naming the NBA Finals Trophy after him. The Bill Russell Trophy seems like a great idea to me.[i] There is already precedent for this since the trophy used to be named for Walter Brown then was changed to honor Larry O’Brien. What player, coach or fan cares about Larry O’Brien? I appreciate that Bill Russell has had the NBA Finals MVP Trophy named after him; it makes a little sense as an honorific. However, the award didn’t start until 1969 so Russell didn’t have the opportunity to win the award himself. And more appropriately, this would be the team award. Who exemplifies team more than Bill Russell?
Naming the trophy for Bill Russell would recognize his place as the greatest champion in American team sports history. It would also connect the trophy to an important figure in the way the Lombardi Trophy does. It happens regularly that football players talk about winning the Lombardi Trophy because that very name resonates with the NFL’s concept of winning. No one ever talks about winning the O’Brien Trophy. Winning the Russell Trophy? That’s got cache.
This change would mean that Bill Russell would have two Finals Trophies named after him which seems odd. Tomorrow, I’ll give you the perfect solution to that dilemma.
[i] Even if the NBA goes a different route, O’Brien needs to be dumped anyway. David Stern has been much more important than O’Brien.