How the NBA reinvented its postseason trophies

When NBA commissioner Adam Silver presents the league champion with a reimagined Larry O’Brien trophy next month, it will mark the culmination of an elaborate five-year process that involved the collaboration of a group of internal work of 20 members, a renowned artist specializing in basketball and a luxury jewelry company.

The result is the first conceptual upgrade to the iconic trophy – all 25.5 inches and 30 pounds – since Tiffany & Co. began designing and manufacturing it in 1977. And while the Larry O’Brien trophy – it will retain the name it has had since 1984 – is the most visible of the league’s evolved lineup of trophies, with more than three dozen of the league’s 51 total honors having seen changes, with more to come.

The multi-year process to reach this point has proven particularly rewarding, said 28-year NBA veteran Christopher Arena, head of on-court partnerships and brand, because it involved such a wide range of individuals. often engaging in heated debate over specs and themes. Artist Victor Solomon and Tiffany collaborated on the six postseason trophies, which for the first time included Conference Finals MVP trophies named after Magic Johnson (west conference) and Larry Bird (east). Solomon also worked closely with the league to design and create the remaining NBA and G League trophies.

“It’s been a passionate game for so many people here – everyone played a central role,” Arena said. “There was a debate, but it was all for the right reasons, like we were all trying to find the right answer. It was an amazing experience. … Trophies are literally a history lesson for our game.”

Artist Victor Solomon and Tiffany & Co. collaborated on the NBA’s six postseason trophies.NBA

The impetus for change came as the league explored trophy concepts for the NBA 2K League, Basketball Africa League and a rebranding of the G League in recent years. The conversation started in earnest about creating aesthetic consistency between league trophies. And the timing of the league’s 75th anniversary – with an eye to both its rich history and its future – was ideal.

Two years ago, the league assembled the task force which included a cross section of each department – ​​basketball and commercial communications, the partnerships team, the events team, player development, the marketing, creative services and more. It met every Friday at 9 a.m. Arena was the chief executive of the process, and Silver remained involved throughout.

Solomon provided an initial vision, a starting point, emphasizing that there should be consistency with the color gold in all centerpieces. But there were many sketches. In fact, Arena showed SBJ the first digital renders from last August of many of the trophies.

Although there were up to 12 drafts with variations for some trophies, only three versions of the Larry O’Brien Trophy were considered. Executives were keen to avoid over-tinkering with the cosmetics of a trophy that has been an indelible facet of so many famous championship images, including Michael Jordan cradling the trophy in tears after winning his first title in 1991. Solomon called the iconic silhouette untouchable. .

“That’s why this trophy was the one we didn’t want to change too much,” Arena said. “We knew consistency was important.”

NBA players also provided input during the process, emphasizing that the Golden Sphere should only be reserved for championship trophies. The evolved Larry O’Brien Trophy isn’t much different in size and weight; the managers didn’t want it to be too heavy for the players and coaches to lift.

But there are notable changes. Gone is the square foundation, replaced by two circular discs. The top lists the team names of the first 75 league champions. The bottom will include champions for the next 25 years, culminating with the NBA’s 100th anniversary.

Additionally, the center column and ball were angled to the right, with sterling silver markings added to highlight the net design. The vision was twofold: they wanted it to align with the return of the classic NBA Finals logo this year. And they wanted the forward tilt to mean the league looks to a prosperous future. Also of note: Because they were aware of the league’s historic past, there was never any consideration of changing the namesake of Larry O’Brien, the league’s third commissioner from 1975 to 1984.

The Bill Russell MVP trophy also got a makeover. Its base now consists of two discs, a design that aligns with the championship trophy, and is now finished in gold vermeil with the sterling silver markings for the netting design.

For the executives, one of the most memorable parts of the years-long process came when the namesakes of the reimagined trophies (or their families) were told. For example, NBA deputy commissioner Mark Tatum and Michael Levine, senior vice president of entertainment and player marketing, were among the few on a Zoom call with Magic and Bird, two iconoclasts who lost little time before rubbing shoulders as they had for decades.

Now that the league is looking to the future, whether for a potential in-season tournament or another flagship event, more trophies yet to be designed are on the horizon.

“We have to find a place for David Stern,” Arena said. “I think we all understand that. And so we’ll probably sit down through the summer – I can see us every summer sitting down and going, ‘OK, is there room for new namesakes? Is there room for new trophies? How do we want to approach this? »

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