Who Is Larry O’Brien and Why Is the NBA Championship Trophy Named After Him?

NBA players aspire to individual greatness, yet when asked what they consider the greatest basketball accomplishment, most players don’t mention scoring a lot or earning the MVP award. Instead, they say that winning a championship is the best achievement of all.

The NBA rewards its champions with one of the most striking trophies in sports: the Larry O’Brien Championship Trophy. Despite this award’s prominence in the NBA landscape, many fans still don’t know Larry O’Brien.

Larry O’Brien’s NBA legacy

The trophy presented to NBA champions was first known as the NFA Finals Trophy. In 1964, the league changed the name to the Walter A. Brown Trophy in order to honor the Boston Celtics founder. Brown played a key role in growing the league. In 1984, however, the NBA changed the name once again, to the Larry O’Brien Championship Trophy.

O’Brien was the NBA’s third commissioner. The former Postmaster General served the league from 1975-84, reports Mental Floss. In his time as commissioner, O’Brien helped expand the league from 18 to 23 teams. He also negotiated the ABA/NBA merger, set up highly profitable cable TV contracts, and ushered in the adoption of the three-point line.

O’Brien’s time as commissioner didn’t lack problems, though. For one thing, he struggled to fight the racially biased idea that NBA players were drug users and had poor character. To counteract this perception, O’Brien advanced stringent new anti-drug rules.

Another common criticism of his time as commissioner was that some of his good decisions were the ideas of his subordinates. For instance, O’Brien’s expansion into cable TV was largely influenced by his eventual replacement, David Stern. Nonetheless, O’Brien’s strengths greatly outweighed his weaknesses as he guided the NBA to where it is today.

The Larry O’Brien Trophy itself

The Larry O’Brien Trophy has existed in its current form since 1977 — in other words, seven years before it was renamed in honor of O’Brien. The 24-inch-tall trophy resembles a basketball poised to fall through a hoop. It’s made of almost 16 pounds of sterling silver coated in 24-karat gold overlay.

Renowned jeweler Tiffany & Co. designed and manufactured the Larry O’Brien Trophy. With a lineage so distinguished, it’s no surprise the trophy costs $13,500, reports Investopedia. This may seem like an enormous sum, but it’s actually cheaper than both the MLB’s World Series Trophy and the NFL’s Super Bowl Trophy, which clock in at $19,000 and $50,000 respectively.

What happens to the trophy each year

A common question about the Larry O’Brien Trophy is whether the winning NBA team gets to keep it following their championship victory. In the far distant past, only one trophy existed. Each year it passed hands depending on the team who secured a finals victory.

Today, however, each winning team gets their own trophy. Of course, until the finals are over, they don’t engrave it. At the moment of victory, the trophy hoisted by the team still doesn’t contain any identifying information. After the game, Tiffany takes back the trophy and engraves it with the winning team’s name and year.

At that point, the Larry O’Brien Trophy often goes on a victory tour, reports the New York Times. The team and its players get a chance to display the trophy at various places in their state and/or country. Eventually, it returns home to the team’s headquarters, where it takes up permanent residence.

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