NBA unveils new MVP trophy named after Michael Jordan

Andrew Kenney/NBA
The new Michael Jordan Trophy, which will be given to the NBA’s MVP, weighs 23.6 pounds and stands 23.6 inches tall, a mash-up of Jordan’s No. 23 jersey and six championship rings.

LOS ANGELES – As the capstone to a sweeping overhaul of its trophy collection, the NBA on Tuesday unveiled a redesigned MVP trophy that was renamed to honor Chicago Bulls legend Michael Jordan.

While the Michael Jordan Trophy bears his name and includes several nods to his Hall of Fame career, the 59-year-old insisted during the nine-month design process that the formidable bronze sculpture not be in his likeness.

“For Michael, naming the award in his honor was recognition enough,” said trophy designer Mark Smith, a retired Nike executive and longtime Jordan confidant.

Instead of mimicking the spread-legged dunking pose featured on the Jordan statue outside Chicago’s United Center and on his “Jumpman” logo, the Michael Jordan Trophy features a basketball player soaring out of a rocklike stand and reaching up to grasp a crystal basketball. Smith eschewed other ideas, such as re-creating memorable playoff shots against the Cleveland Cavaliers in 1989 and the Utah Jazz in 1998, in favor of a universal silhouette that symbolizes a player’s rise to greatness. Though the trophy’s figure is bald like Jordan, he isn’t depicted in a Bulls jersey and his shoes don’t bear Nike logos.

“[Jordan] wanted the player who wins this trophy to think about his own journey,” said Christopher Arena, who oversaw the redesign as head of the NBA’s on-court and brand partnerships team. “His vision was that the player who wins this would see his own hard work reflected in the trophy, not just a statue of Michael Jordan. He didn’t want the trophy to be him taking the ‘Last Shot’ or jumping and fist-pumping.”

The trophy nevertheless includes several subtle tributes to Jordan, who has owned the Charlotte Hornets since 2010. The trophy weighs 23.6 pounds and stands 23.6 inches tall, a mash-up of Jordan’s No. 23 jersey and six championship rings. Similarly, the trophy boasts a striking 23-sided crystal basketball and a six-sided nameplate. The black base has five sides and descends at a 15-degree angle, referencing Jordan’s five MVP awards and 15-year career with the Bulls and Washington Wizards.

Careful observers of the statue will note that the player’s upper body is lighter and brighter than his lower body. Victor Solomon, a Los Angeles-based artist who will manufacture the Michael Jordan Trophy, said the gradual color change represents the struggles that an MVP must overcome during his career.

“This player is breaking out of this rock and breaking out of this raw form,” Solomon said while showing off the finished product at his El Segundo studio. “This hand-burnished gradient technique takes it from that rough grittiness, to symbolize where the player came from, to the warm tone at the top. As you go up the form, the figure becomes more finely tuned and more formally realized. This is the journey from rawness into excellence as they’re reaching up for the diamond ball.”

Arena said selecting Jordan as the MVP trophy’s namesake was a straightforward decision given his accomplishments and his status as one of most revered icons among current players. Jordan’s five MVP awards – he won in 1988, 1991, 1992, 1996 and 1998 – are tied with Boston Celtics legend Bill Russell for second all-time behind Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s six with the Milwaukee Bucks and Los Angeles Lakers.

The NBA renamed its Finals MVP trophy after Russell in 2009 and unveiled a Social Justice Champion award with a trophy in Abdul-Jabbar’s honor in May. Following Kobe Bryant’s death in 2020, the NBA renamed its All-Star Game MVP trophy after the Lakers legend. When the NBA updated its Larry O’Brien Trophy before the 2022 Finals, it also added Eastern Conference finals MVP and Western Conference finals MVP trophies named after Celtics forward Larry Bird and Lakers guard Magic Johnson, respectively.

The MVP trophy was previously named after Maurice Podoloff, the league’s first commissioner. Last week, the NBA announced that it had created a new award, to be presented to the team with the best record at the end of the regular season, that would be named in Podoloff’s honor.

Additionally, the NBA conceived new trophies that honor significant figures from the league’s history in conjunction with its major end-of-season individual awards: the Hakeem Olajuwon Trophy for Defensive Player of the Year, the Wilt Chamberlain Trophy for Rookie of the Year, the George Mikan Trophy for Most Improved Player and the John Havlicek Trophy for Sixth Man of the Year. To complete the lineup, the NBA created the Clutch Player of the Year award and named its trophy after Lakers great Jerry West.

These end-of-season award trophies were designed by Solomon, who sought to create a cohesive feel for the awards with 15-inch crystal cylinders that sport a net design on the back. Suspended inside each cylinder is a gold “Trophy Man” that, Solomon said, was an “anthropomorphized version of the NBA’s logo posed into an orientation that referenced the namesake or the theme of each trophy.”

The Rookie of the Year trophy was inspired by a photograph of Chamberlain palming basketballs with both hands simultaneously, while the Clutch Player of the Year trophy features a West-like figure shooting a jump shot. The Defensive Player of the Year has the figure crouched in a defensive stance with one hand raised, and the Most Improved Player trophy pays homage to the “Mikan Drill” with the player practicing a layup.

The trophy naming process was exhaustive, with input coming from across several departments in the league office and from the National Basketball Players Association’s executive committee as the NBA attempted to “slot” decorated former players alongside its existing awards.

“As we recognize the league’s top performers each season, we also pay tribute to the legends who embody these prestigious awards,” NBA Commissioner Adam Silver said in a statement.

Olajuwon, a two-time Defensive Player of the Year, was selected in part because he is the league’s all-time leader in blocked shots. Chamberlain was tabbed for Rookie of the Year because he won the award in 1960 by averaging a league-leading 37.6 points and 27 rebounds. Havlicek, who won eight titles with the Celtics, helped popularize the super-sub role, but he retired before the NBA began handing out its Sixth Man award in 1983. West was nicknamed “Mr. Clutch” for his late-game heroics.

The updated award trophies are intended to last until the NBA’s 100th season, but the league has other new designs in the works, including a trophy that will be named after former commissioner David Stern and a full refresh of the WNBA’s collection.

Jordan will receive the original Michael Jordan Trophy, which Arena said will serve as “the exclamation mark on his five.” Denver Nuggets center Nikola Jokic will be the first active player to receive a Michael Jordan Trophy in recognition of his 2022 MVP award; the NBA will retroactively bestow its redesigned trophies to the players who won major awards during the NBA’s 75th season.

“When fans look at the Michael Jordan Trophy, I hope they see elegance,” Arena said. “He was such an elegant player.”