MILWAUKEE — Michael Jordan cried tears of joy and cradled his first Larry O’Brien Trophy in 1991. Kawhi Leonard gave the trophy a pet name in 2019 — “The Larry O.B.” — and one year later LeBron James looked down lovingly at its gold ball in 2020 and quipped, “I can’t believe you cheated on me for the last five years.” And Giannis Antetokounmpo planted a big kiss on it when the Milwaukee Bucks claimed their first title in 50 years last July.
This tradition of reverence and affection dates to 1977, when the Portland Trail Blazers became the inaugural winners of the NBA’s championship trophy, which replaced the cup-style Walton A. Brown Trophy and was later named after O’Brien, the NBA commissioner from 1975 to 1984.
Over the years, the Larry O’Brien Trophy’s distinctive silhouette has become one of the NBA’s signature visual elements, gracing the Finals logo and countless pieces of merchandise, as well as the league’s most coveted status symbol, reinforced by its Tiffany & Co. design and custom Louis Vuitton case.
Commissioner Adam Silver will recognize the 2022 NBA champions in June with a refreshed version of the Larry O’Brien Trophy, which was unveiled Thursday alongside a collection of postseason trophies that included new conference MVP awards named after Larry Bird and Magic Johnson. The updated trophies, which were conceived as part of the NBA’s 75th anniversary season celebrations, follow the Kobe Bryant All-Star Game MVP trophy, which was announced in February.
“The Larry O’Brien is the icon that our players are striving for,” said Christopher Arena, head of the NBA’s on-court and brand partnerships team. “For us, the ball, the net and the gold jump out. The NFL’s is silver. The Stanley Cup is silver. Baseball’s is a combination, but it’s translucent with the flags. The World Cup is fairly small but meaningful. Ours has a grandeur and a perspective. It’s not a fully formed net, it’s cut off a little bit. The ball isn’t quite in the net, it’s just off to the right. Those little elements add to the lore.”
While the updated Larry O’Brien Trophy maintains its gold color and well-known silhouette, the 25.5-inch tall, 29-pound design has several new touches. The angular central column and top sphere were tilted forward and to the right as a symbolic nod to the league’s future, and sterling silver markings were added to highlight the basketball’s seams and the net design.
The base now includes two wraparound engraved plaques: The top lists the NBA’s first 75 champions, while the bottom will recognize new winners over the next 25 years. A Finals logo was also added to the underside as a visual Easter egg that will be revealed when champions lift the trophy into the air. The NBA was intent on keeping the trophy’s dimensions similar to the previous version so that it was big enough to appear substantial, but not so heavy that it would be cumbersome during celebrations.
“The silhouette is so iconic that there wasn’t much we wanted to change,” said designer Victor Solomon, who worked with the NBA on its postseason trophy collection over the last two years. “We changed the seams to a contrast plating so that they pop a lot more. The net is now a more literal interpretation, and we reoriented the base to a cylindrical form. The etchings on the base will take us up to the 100th anniversary season. These are subtle things that help tell the NBA’s greater story.”
Solomon collaborated with Tiffany & Co. on the Larry O’Brien’s new look. The luxury jewelry company will manufacture the trophy at their Rhode Island holloware shop and create replicas by request for winning players and teams. The Bill Russell Finals MVP Trophy underwent a similar redesign, adding a gold finish with silver accents for the ball and net along with a double-layered base to maintain visual consistency with the championship trophy.
For the first time, the NBA this year will select MVPs of the Eastern Conference finals and Western Conference finals, with the trophies named after Bird and Johnson. The Boston Celtics forward and Los Angeles Lakers guard were natural selections given their cross-country rivalry throughout the 1980s.
“The conference finals represent the last hurdle a team must face for an opportunity to make it to the big stage, the NBA Finals,” said Johnson, who guided the “Showtime” Lakers to five championships. “This player excels on both ends of the court, makes his teammates better and leads his team to the greatest stage in basketball.”
The new conference MVP trophies, which stand 14 inches tall and weigh five pounds, merge elements of the Finals MVP trophy and the conference championship trophies with a sterling silver ball and a gold net.
To complete the postseason collection, the NBA updated its conference championship trophies, which were first created in 2001, and renamed them after Hall of Famers Bob Cousy, for the East, and Oscar Robertson, for the West. Both trophies showcase a silver basketball: The East’s sits on three prongs and the West’s rests on two halos. The new conference MVP trophies sport the same distinctive bases.
Cousy and Robertson were chosen as namesakes to recognize their championship careers and off-court contributions. Cousy was the National Basketball Players Association’s first president, and Robertson was the players union’s first Black president.
“Several decades ago, I played in an emerging and highly competitive league with tremendous talent,” said Robertson, who won a title with the 1971 Bucks. “This trophy represents to me not only my hard work to make the league better, but all the efforts of the future Oscar Robertson Trophy winners who make the NBA great.”
As Antetokounmpo and the Bucks continue their title defense, the 2021 Larry O’Brien Trophy resides in the Fiserv Forum’s trophy room and makes the rounds at public events across Wisconsin. The trophy’s magnetic pull on fans is so strong that the Bucks plan to eventually create a public display at their downtown arena.
“The Larry O’Brien has a cultural significance that none of the other championship trophies have,” Solomon said. “Snoop Dogg wore a Larry O’Brien chain when the Lakers won. Drake did a 30-foot version of the trophy onstage and then put it on his album art after the Toronto Raptors won. So many fans get it tattooed on their bodies. All of that adds to the excitement about what we can contribute to its next era.”