The third annual NBA Awards marked the end of the 2018-19 NBA season on Monday, at the Barker Hangar in Santa Monica, Calif. NBA Hall of Famer and TNT analyst Shaquille O’Neal hosted this year’s awards. The evening brought out the NBA’s rising stars and legends, league executives and celebrities from Kareem Abdul Jabbar to Mark Cuban, 2 Chainz to Samuel L. Jackson.
Here are the top moments from this year’s awards:
Giannis Antetokounmpo’s MVP Speech
The 24-year-old was overcome with emotion as he accepted his first NBA MVP award. Antetokounmpo thanked his Bucks’ teammates, in addition to the Bucks’ coaching staff and front office for drafting him in the 2013 NBA Draft with the fifteenth overall pick. He tried to fight back tears until he spoke about how the passing of his father motivated him to be a better player. He gave a special thanks to his brothers and mother for supporting him and despite their humble start, always feeling loved.
“I want to thank my dad. Obviously you know my dad is not here with me,” Antetokounmpo fought through tears. “Two years ago, I had the goal in my head, the goal that I was going to be the best player in the league. I’m going to do whatever it takes to help my team win and I’m going to win MVP. Every day that I step on the floor I always think of my dad and that motivates me and pushes me to play harder and move forward.”
Sager Strong Award: Robin Roberts Speech
Good Morning America’s Robin Roberts was awarded the Sager Strong Award in honor of the late Hall of Fame broadcaster Craig Sager. She was introduced by HBO’s “Insecure” star, Issa Rae and WNBA superstar Candace Parker who spoke glowingly about how Roberts courageously battled cancer in the public eye. She is both a cancer survivor and Myelodysplastic Syndrome (MDS) survivor.
Roberts left the audience nearly speechless with an inspirational quote passed down to her from her mother. “We are all stronger than we think we are. Make your mess your message.”
Hasan Minhaj Brings the Comedy
Hasan Minhaj provided much needed comedic relief as one of the presenters. He took shots at 2018 NBA MVP James Harden, who was not in attendance despite him being a finalist in the MVP race.
“I was looking for James Harden, but in classic playoff fashion, he didn’t show up.”
Harden was not Minhaj’s only target of the night; he also included LaMelo Ball and Kyle Korver as the butts of his litany of jokes. According to NBA Twitter, Minhaj should be the host of the 2020 NBA Awards.
Lifetime Achievement Award: Larry Bird and Magic Johnson
It was fitting that Larry Bird and Magic Johnson were honored with Lifetime Achievement awards together. The pair of Hall of Famers entered the NBA in the same year. Once college rivals (Johnson at Michigan State, Bird at Indiana State) and then in the NBA (Johnson with the Los Angeles Lakers and Bird with the Boston Celtics), they continued a competitive rivalry that lasted for an entire basketball era.
Bird spoke first and highlighted the current players and state of the league giving a nod to current players like LeBron James. He gave high praise to Warriors’ Klay Thompson . He also touched on having a successful coaching career and front-office tenure in Indiana. While Johnson thanked the late Lakers’ owner Jerry Buss and the current Lakers owner Jeanie Buss. He concluded by expressing to Bird how much of an impact he had on Johnson’s career. “I think we pushed each other to greatness.”
NBA Expanding Internationally
The NBA has continued to expand its global presence under Commissioner Adam Silver’s tenure. This was fully represented as international players took home four out of the five media-voted player awards including: MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo (Greece), Rookie of the Year Luka Doncic (Slovenia), Defensive Player of the Year Rudy Gobert (France) and Most Improved Player Pascal Siakam (Cameroon).
Siakam made sure to acknowledge his African roots in his acceptance speech. “It means everything, just being from where I am from. A lot of kids can look at this and have some type of inspiration and belief that it can happen … give hope to all African kids out there.”
This was on the heels of the Siakam and the Toronto Raptors becoming the first Canadian team to win an NBA title, which boasted several additional international players, coaches and executives. The NBA announced during NBA All-Star Weekend in Charlotte, that the league is establishing a new professional basketball league in Africa set to debut in 2020.
Other winners from the evening included Los Angeles Clipper guard Lou Williams, who received the Sixth Man of the Year Award for the second consecutive year and his third award, tying Jamal Crawford all-time; Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert, took home Defensive Player of the Year honors for the second year as well; and Mike Budenholze of the Milwaukee Bucks was tapped as Coach of the Year.