Durant has a point: Players also deserve a vote

Durant has a point: Players also deserve a vote
Kevin Durant #35 of the Oklahoma City Thunder participates in warmups prior to a game against the New Orleans Pelicans at the Smoothie King Center on December 2, 2014 in New Orleans, Louisiana.

Vote. Please. Now. On every website we crave your choice. Worst hairstyle. Best goal. Ugliest tackle. Press a button, give us a virtual show of hands. Your opinion is meaningful, truly, till tomorrow that is, when we have another award for you to put your fingerprint on.

Athletes don't play for awards; they want to win by brilliance, not ballot. Still, you go to their houses and there they are, these twisted- steel and blown-glass accolades. Given by big nations and small community clubs. Though one champion told me he keeps most awards hidden because he wants his kids to remember he's just plain daddy, not a series of inscriptions on decorative pieces.

Awards polish the human ego and we're no different from the greats. Bet your mum's still got that peeling plaque which you got for "Best Effort" in an under-12 race in which you finished 25th. C'mon, it's fun.

It's just that Kevin Durant, who won over attending media at the NBA All-Star game by saying they know s*** about basketball, is a bit miffed about awards. He believes scribes have too much power in deciding them. He's presumably happy to have the media extol his deeds, telecast his moves, write about his genius, hail his comebacks, communicate his talent to every shore, but don't you dare judge him.

But, let us, the scribbling media, not be thin-skinned here, not when we, puffed up with self-importance, spend our lives rating and berating athletes. And if you bypass Durant's rude rant, he has a point: The MVP award shouldn't just be voted on by a spectrum of media - there is one vote for fans - but deserves the players' input as well.

Athletes, their sweat mingling, their will colliding, see things we simply can't. An Australian cricketer once told me that a teammate, whom the media believed was all measured cool, for it was how he played, was in fact endlessly agitated and chatty in the middle.

The difficulty of sport is best reckoned with by those who play it. The frustration Djokovic evokes, the deftness of Messi, the spin of Nadal, the acceleration of Ronaldo, the technique of a Phelps turn, the courage of tacklers, the challenge of a bunker shot with a downhill lie when faced with an Augusta green, all this only athletes know clearest, they feel it, they taste it.

"You guys," said Durant to the media, "aren't in the scouting reports, you're not in the team meetings and the film sessions to really break down each player's games."

Athletes wish to be rated by their peers, by those who exist in their exclusive world. Like in golf, where the US PGA Tour Player of the Year nominees are decided by the Tour Player Directors and members of the Player Advisory Council, but voted on by players.

In men's tennis, the year's finest player is simply the one holding the No. 1 ranking, but the awards for sportsmanship, most improved player and comeback player are decided by racket-wielding athletes themselves.

The Laureus Awards mixes two groups neatly, using global media to pick six nominees for each award and then asking its World Sports Academy, over-stuffed with legends, to then secretly vote. Cricket's governing body, the ICC, has found balance, too, with a selection panel of former players handing a shortlist to representatives of players (none current), the media and umpires to vote on.

It's where the NBA should travel, to a vote that's a mix, using current players but also former players and the media. For let's not presume every active player is watching every match, or doing Billy Beane-style sabermetrics in their free time. But often the media is.

Let's not be blind to the truth that athletes, swollen with ego, can let pettiness factor into their choices. Let's admit the media can be biased but so is the human player. Among the instructions to footballers voting for England's PFA Players' Player of the Year is that they can't vote for a player in their own club.

So let's give players a vote, but let's not go all gooey about awards. Yes, jocks in suits, a little tense, giving teary-eyed thank-you mumbles, is passing fun. Even though it's a bit curious that everyone swears that there's no "I" in team even as they quite like the "I" in individual award.

Anyway, as Durant, the dazzling, knows, the purest part of sport is still titles won by unarguable skill, not awards by subjective referendum. Who cares how many MVPs Michael Jordan got, you say his name and you immediately think: Six titles.

As an Olympic gold medallist, the Indian shooter Abhinav Bindra, told me yesterday: "Nothing beats the gold medal or a victory. The rest to me is just drama, something to fill the cabinet or hang on the wall." He's honoured to be voted on by others, he'd just rather win by his own hand.


This article was first published on February 17, 2015.
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