Justin Verrier, NBA
LAS VEGAS -- NBA players have long since stressed that the way they evaluate team and individual performances differs from fans and media. In the NBA players association's first ever "Players' Awards," they underlined the supposed distinction, selecting James Harden as Most Valuable Player.
Stephen Curry finished 262 voting points and 75 first-place votes ahead of Harden to win the traditional MVP award, as voted on by select media members, for the 2014-15 season.
But Harden, who finished ahead of Curry this past regular season in points and rebounds per game but behind him in advanced statistics such as player efficiency rating (PER) and ESPN's Real Plus-Minus, was the players' choice, emerging from backstage at the Penn & Teller Theater at the Rio Las Vegas to accept the trophy after not sitting in the audience for the other award announcements.
Among those whom Harden thanked during his acceptance speech was the players' union, for "giving players a voice to speak their minds."
Curry was named by players as this year's "Clutch Performer" and "Hardest to Guard." He and Golden State Warriors teammates Andre Iguodala, Harrison Barnes and Festus Ezeli also accepted the award for the best home-court advantage, which went to the reigning champions' Oracle Arena.
LeBron James, who finished third in traditional MVP voting, won the award for "Player you secretly wish was on your team."
James, who was elected in February as the NBPA's first vice president, and DeAndre Jordan were among the notable players who didn't attend Sunday's taping.
Players also named San Antonio Spurs coach Gregg Popovich -- and not 2015 coach of the year winner Mike Budenholzer of the Atlanta Hawks -- as the "Coach you most want to play for" and Jordan as "Best Defender." Defensive player of the year Kawhi Leonard and runner-up Draymond Green didn't finish among the four leading vote-getters.
Chris Paul won the Oscar Robertson Visionary Award for his on- and off-court achievements, and Ray Allen was named "Man of the Year" for his, receiving a video tribute from President Barack Obama that left Allen visibly emotional.
Allen Iverson also was given the "Gamechanger" award for his contributions to the sport. In his acceptance speech, Iverson, the league MVP in the 2001, echoed most other winners by noting the importance of the distinction coming from his peers.
"This is one of the most special awards I've ever received because it comes from y'all," Iverson said, referencing the players in attendance.
Five months earlier, at All-Star Weekend, Kevin Durant, issued a rallying cry for players' right to vote on their awards.
"Yeah, I think media and guys get too much power to vote on stuff that, quite frankly, I don't think you really know a lot about [or] as much as we know about it," Durant said. "So, yeah, we play against these guys every single night. We battle against these guys. We know what they say on the court. We know how they handle their teammates. We know how they approach the game. And our vote should count. Our opinions should count. Like I said, I don't think you guys know as much as we do, and I don't see why you have more power than we do."
"You guys really don't know s---," Durant told reporters.
Those in attendance at Sunday's event weren't as pointed, but they agreed that players should have a say in the process.
"When you really think about it, who really knows us players better than our players," said Chris Paul, the president of the NBA players' union. "Not to take away anything from [media members], who get the opportunity to vote on all the different awards, but I think we sort of know each other -- we know who are the guys, who guys like, stuff like that. This is the first year, and I think next year we'll have an opportunity to make it even better."
Since 1981, the NBA's official annual awards have been voted on by a panel of media members selected by the league.
"All I know is that the [players] have a sense of who they respect and whose game they respect, in a way that the media can't possibly know, because the media hasn't played with these guys," said Michele Roberts, the executive director of the NBPA. "So it's an interesting, different perspective. I don't want to say that one's better than the other. It's up to you. But it's interesting to me to hear what the players have to say about their brothers."
Said Paul Pierce: "I think that this is awesome. Players are moving in a whole other direction, showing what we can do when we put our minds to it. You see all these other award shows -- the ESPYs, the BET awards. Players thought about it and said, 'Why not us have one.' We have our choices for All-Stars, we have our choice for MVP, but we don't get our chance to voice that. And I think here at the Players' Awards we get our chance to voice our opinion of who was the best team or best crowd or best player, and I think it's great."