Well before they’re hoisted in the air by the winners, the NBA postseason trophies already received a significant lift.
The league announced Thursday a set of six reimagined trophies, each receiving a makeover. The centerpiece is, of course, the Larry O’Brien Trophy, awarded to the NBA champion, which sports a roundish upgrade that’s even more diametrically reflective of the basketball itself.
One big addition: There will now be Conference Final MVP trophies, which are named after Magic Johnson (Western Conference) and Larry Bird (Eastern Conference), both credited with boosting the league in the early 1980s and raising the profile of the game. Those trophies raise a sterling silver ball, similar to the conference champion trophies.
The general size, shape and weight of the Larry O’Brien Trophy remains unchanged but there are noticeable tweaks. The base is the biggest difference where, instead of a square foundation, the trophy now sits on a pair of circular stacks. The top disc lists the team names of the first 75 NBA champions. Starting this year, the name of each NBA champion will be etched on the bottom disc of each new trophy, ensuring that each team will receive a one-of-a-kind trophy bearing its name.
The disc will have enough space to contain the next 25 NBA champions, leading up to the league’s 100th Anniversary Season.
Also, the net and ball configuration has been shifted forward, symbolizing the league looking ahead to its future. The 24-karat gold vermeil has been masked to reveal sterling silver emphasizing the channels of the ball and also the net, which was slightly redesigned to give it more pop. Underneath the trophy is the new NBA Finals logo. Once again, and since 1977, Tiffany & Co. is the manufacturer.
“Our minds were on what the trophy should look like and how heavy they should be,” said Christopher Arena, the NBA’s head of on-court and brand partnerships, who spearheaded the project. “We wanted to explore and start a new 75 years and bring some aesthetic consistency to that and have some meaning behind all the trophies we had.”
About the redesigned base of the Larry O’Brien Trophy, Arena said: “The Larry O’Brien used to have this square, rectangular base. But it was a little bit awkward, like, where do you grab it? By making it cylinder you can grab it at any point, you can hold it in your hand easier. There’s gripping point on everything we did.”
Victor Solomon, the artist who collaborated with Tiffany on the six trophies, wanted to infuse the old with the new to create a different synergy.
“Symbolically, the trophy represents the end of a journey that these athletes go on, and I felt the symbols to celebrate the players had been under-celebrated,” Solomon said. “It was very exciting and unprecedented to be able to push the boundaries and (figure out) what materials need to be and don’t need to be associated with it and what we needed to do to create a cohesive collection of trophies. Here we have every trophy having a relationship with the other one.
“A lot of it served as inspiration for what this next era would look like. One of the main rules was using the past to infuse what the future would look like. Using the history to set the table for the next era.”
The Bill Russell Trophy, given to the Finals MVP, is now finished completely in gold vermeil to match the Larry O’Brien Trophy, featuring similar masking to reveal the net and basketball channels.
The NBA is naming its two conference championship trophies after Bob Cousy (Eastern Conference) and Oscar Robertson (Western Conference), a pair of legends who were also instrumental in their leadership roles with the player’s union. Both trophies raise a silver basketball, quartered into four sections representing making the playoffs, winning the first round, winning the conference semifinals and winning the conference finals. The underside lists the teams in each conference and the conference finals logo and the etching on the base of both feature round-by-round scores.
The original Finals trophy was made of wood and consisted of a removable cup and a base — hence, the Walter Brown Cup, named after the original owner of the Celtics. In 1977, Tiffany created the present trophy, and in 1984, the trophy was renamed after former commissioner O’Brien.
Arena said there was no discussion about renaming the trophy again, mainly because of the widespread familiarity of the name.
“There’s equity behind the name,” he said. “And the design had equity, too. So this was a small turn of the dial compared to the All-Star MVP trophy, for example, which was redone and named after Kobe Bryant.”
Solomon did a redesign of the NBA G League’s trophies and in that process, the thought of a re-do of the six NBA championship trophies caught steam and Solomon stayed in the creative loop.
“We could’ve taken an easy route and made a bunch of shiny new stuff that was arbitrary, but this league and these players deserved something so much more thoughtful,” he said. “What we’re making is time capsules, something that these players and organizations are going to have as touchstones going forward.
“These trophies had so much equity and connection to the sport that we didn’t want to throw it out the window or flip the table, we wanted to spin it forward. We wanted something visually appealing to them that also matches the height of what they achieved, something so cool that they may want to repeat that achievement even more.”
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Shaun Powell has covered the NBA for more than 25 years. You can e-mail him here, find his archive here and follow him on Twitter.
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